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In a paper called “i See You: Disabling the Mac Book Webcam Indicator LED,” Brocker and Checkoway describe how to reprogram the i Sight camera’s micro-controller to allow the camera and light to be activated independently.

That allows the camera to be turned on while the light stays off.

While the research focused on Mac Book and i Mac models released before 2008, the authors say similar techniques could work on more recent computers from a wide variety of vendors.

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But Checkoway and his co-author, Johns Hopkins graduate student Matthew Brocker, were able to get around this security feature.

“People are starting to think about what happens when you can reprogram each of those,” Miller says.

For example, he demonstrated an attack last year on the software that controls Apple batteries, which causes the battery to discharge rapidly, potentially leading to a fire or explosion.

As a result, she had no idea she was under surveillance. While controlling a camera remotely has long been a source of concern to privacy advocates, conventional wisdom said there was at least no way to deactivate the warning light. Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division in Quantico, said in a recent story in The Washington Post that the FBI has been able to covertly activate a computer’s camera — without triggering the light that lets users know it is recording — for several years.

Now research from Johns Hopkins University provides the first public confirmation that it’s possible to do just that, and demonstrates how.

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