Is Your Apple Computer Spying on You? Hackers Can Target Webcams, Study ...


A Johns Hopkins University study has shown that older Mac computers can be hacked and their LED webcam lights deactivated. (Photo : Reuters)


Webcams on older Mac computers can 'spy' on users during private moments if hackers disable the warning light, a new study shows.


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Research from Johns Hopkins University revealed that malware can be used to disable the light that indicates when the webcam is active, allowing hackers to watch people when they think they're alone, PCWorld reported.


Assistant Research Professor Stephen Checkoway and graduate student Matthew Brocker looked at the first-generation webcam, which is in Apple's iMac and MacBook computers released before 2008. While investigating the software, the researchers discovered that simple modifications to the webcam's firmware could disable the warning light.


Working with the webcam's hardware, Checkoway and Brocker figured out how to disable the LED and fool the computer into thinking it was still on. They have published the study and sent the report to Apple.


The company hasn't informed them about any possible fixes to the issue and didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from PCWorld.


Hackers have been a rising problem in recent years as they spy on victims, usually women, in private settings.


A famous example of such cybercrime is Cassidy Wolf of California, who was crowned this year's Miss Teen USA.


Only months before winning the competition, Wolf received an email from a stranger telling her that he had photos of her in her bedroom.


'I wasn't aware that somebody was watching me (on my webcam),'' she told TODAY.com. 'The light (on the camera) didn't even go on, so I had no idea.'


Jared James Abrahams, a 19-year-old computer science student, was the man who contacted Wolf and 11 other girls and women around the world in an attempt to extort them, according to The Independent.


'I hacked several girls' computers and, using their webcams, took photos of them when they weren't aware,' Abrahams admitted in a court appearance last month.


He pleaded guilty to three counts of extortion and one count of unauthorized computer access. A former high school classmate of Wolf's, Abrahams faces up to 11 years in prison and fines of up to $1 million when he's sentenced in March.


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