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Is My Webcam Hacked Mac

Ransomware is a particularly nasty form of malware because it seeks to exploit computer users’ fear that their privacy has been compromised. As more and more malware is reported and makes the headlines, more of us become concerned for the safety of our data, as well as our own privacy and even personal safety. Ransomware, like the “your camera is hacked” scam, plays on that by sending you a message telling you that the hackers have images taken from your webcam while you were surfing the web. Usually, the message claims you have been visiting porn sites and that the webcam took a video of you while you visited the sites.

Can my Mac’s camera be hacked?

The short answer is yes. It is possible for malware running on your Mac to turn on the iSight camera and record video or still images and audio from the microphone, and send it to a storage location on the internet. As recently as 2016, a backdoor called Backdoor.OSX.Mokes, a Mac variant of a piece of malware that had already been found on Windows and Linux computers, was discovered. According to Kaspersky labs, the backdoor could steal data, including Screenshots, Audio-/Video-Captures, Office-Documents, and Keystrokes. There have been other instances of malware that has this capability.

As reported at “Objective by the Sea,” 2019 security conference, 20% of Macs are infected by PUPs — Potentially Unwanted Applications.

What can I do to stop my camera from being hacked?

While some suggest using camera covers or lids to protect your privacy, we don't recommend doing so. Closing your Mac with a cover over the camera may seriously damage the display. Lids can also cover the light sensor and prevent your Mac from automatically adjusting brightness. There are other safe methods to make sure you're not being watched. We'll explain them below.

Doesn’t a green light come on when the camera is in use?

Yes, it does. Apple assures that the camera indicator is always lit if the camera is activated. It means no one can use your camera without you knowing.

But there are additional security measures you can take to control access to your camera.

Check what apps have access to your camera

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Jan 30, 2019 How to see if your webcam is being hacked. You can check to see if your webcam is in use in a few ways. The easiest way on some webcams, notably the type that you attach to your laptop, is to see. OverSight - Free webcam and microphone blocker Oversight is another software you could install to block access to your MacBook webcam but is available for free. Similar to Parallels Toolbox. If it’s an external webcam, you’ll definitely know where it is. Webcams capture video live and send it back to your computer. They are normally used for video calls but they can be hacked like anything else electronic and transmitted back to another source, or in this case, another person.

If you think that your camera might be hacked, it’s a good idea to check what programs on your Mac are allowed to access it. You can easily check the current permissions with the help of the freshly-baked feature in CleanMyMac X. It’s called “Application Permissions,” and it allows you to stay in the know of your app permissions. If you're running macOS Catalina, you can check what programs can access your camera, microphone, files, and folders in just a few clicks.

CleanMyMac X has a free trial version, so try it out and keep your data safe!

I thought you said the “your computer has been hacked” thing is a scam?

It is. While it’s possible to steal video, audio, and photos from your webcam and microphone, and malware exists that can do it, that’s not what’s happening in this case. The porn blackmail scam that sends out email messages claiming your webcam has been hacked is designed to extract money from people who believe it may be true. Even people who have never visited a porn site become concerned when they receive the email. It's easy for people who have visited porn sites to see how their fears could be exploited.

The scam works by sending spam emails in the hope of luring enough people to make it worthwhile. The email claims that you downloaded a virus while watching porn and that the virus captured video of you while you were on the site, along with screenshots of the site itself. It then threatens to send the video to everyone in your contacts app if you don’t pay a ransom of several thousand dollars in Bitcoin. As an extra twist, the email addresses are often harvested from data breaches which also exposed users’ passwords. By including the password in the email, the hacker demonstrates that they know something about the recipient. That increases the fear that the hacker has more information, including the images and video they claim to have. It’s a tried and tested social engineering trick and a very nasty one.

What to do if I receive one of these emails?

  1. Delete it. Don’t click on any links in the email and don’t pay the ransom. The hacker doesn’t have what they claim to have. The email is designed to blackmail porn site visitors. Even if you have visited porn sites, you can safely delete the email.
  2. If the email contains a password or part of a password that you’ve used online, change your password on every site where you use it. Use a unique password for every account, make sure it’s hard to guess (Safari’s password suggestion tool is a good way to do this), and don’t write it down.
  3. иTake the opportunity to scan your computer for malware. You can do that using one of the many antivirus tools that allow you to download them and scan your computer for free. Some may then charge you if they find anything, and you need to remove it. Alternatively, if you’re using a Mac, you can use the malware tool in CleanMyMac X. It uses CleanMyMac’s regularly updated malware database and compares what it finds on your Mac with it. If it doesn’t find anything, it will tell you your Mac has a clean bill of health. If it does, you can remove it at the press of one button.
    This app can detect macOS-specific keyloggers, backdoor viruses, and worms. Download its free version here.
  4. Forget about it. Once you’ve deleted the email, changed passwords, and scanned your computer, try and forget about it. You won’t hear any more from the hackers.

While it is possible for webcams, like the iSight cam on iMacs and MacBooks, to be hacked and images and video stolen, it’s very unusual. Far more common are hackers who try to exploit the fears of people who are worried about privacy by claiming to have video and photos that they don’t. While taping over your webcam and microphone will prevent anything from being stolen, for most of us, it’s probably not necessary. However, you should make sure that your online accounts have secure, unique passwords and delete any accounts you no longer need or use. And it would be best if you also scan your computer for malware, perhaps using the malware utility in CleanMyMac X.

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You turn on your MacBook and feel that something is wrong: some files have disappeared, or new files were added. You wonder if someone has been watching your computer.

Is My Webcam Hacked Mac Computer

So, how to tell if someone is remotely accessing your MacBook? You need to check your logs, verify that no new users were created, make sure that remote login, screen sharing, and remote management are disabled, and no spyware is running on your computer.

What is remote access and how is it configured on MacBooks?

There are three ways to access macOS remotely: allow remote logins from another computer, enable Screen Sharing or allow access by using Remote Desktop.

Both ways are legitimate, but if you don’t remember doing any of them you need to know how to turn on and off those possibilities.

Remote login to macOS

Computers that run macOS as an operating system can log in to your Mac using Secure Shell (SSH).

Mac

Steps to enable remote login are the following:

  1. Go to System Preferences. You can get there by clicking on the apple icon on the left of the top bar. After you clicked on the Apple icon you will see a drop-down menu where you should click on the System Preferences menu item.
  2. Find the Sharing folder and double click. Click on the Remote Login checkbox on the left.
  3. Now you have the option to allow access either for all users or only specific users.

Once Remote Login is enabled then users with access can use SSH to log in and browse your computer’s contents.

Access to Mac screen using Screen Sharing

Webcam

If you need help from IT to make changes on your MacBook, or maybe you are collaborating on a project and want to share your screen, you can enable Screen Sharing. Steps to enable as follows:

  1. Go to System Preferences.
  2. Find the Sharing folder and double click. Click on the Screen Sharing checkbox on the left.
  3. Allow access either for all users or only specific users.

Now on another Mac (from which you want to access your Mac), start the Screen Sharing app.

You can start it by clicking Command and Space buttons. In a popup form, type Sharing and hit Enter. Type your computer name. In my case, I had to type in “dev-pros-MacBook-Pro.local”.

A new window will pop up with the shared screen of another computer. Now you can control the screen.

Remote Desktop with Remote Management

Finally, it is possible to login to a computer with macOS by enabling Remote Desktop.

Steps to enable as follows:

  1. Go to System Preferences.
  2. Find the Sharing folder and double click. Click on the Remote Management check box on the left.
  3. Allow access either for all users or only specific users.
  4. There will be different Sharing options where you can fine-tune the type of access to allow: observe, change settings, delete, copy, and even restart the computer.

Now you can access this Mac from Apple Remote Desktop – it’s an application you can buy from Apple Store and at the time of writing its cost was $79.99.

If your Mac is being monitored, it will show this image (two rectangles) in the top right-hand corner near your computer time:

When that symbol appears, you will be able to tell if you are being monitored. You can also disconnect the viewer by clicking on the Disconnect option:

You can also click on “Open Sharing Preferences…” which will open the Sharing folder in System Preferences.

Since the question you had was if someone remotely accessing your computer then the chances are that you don’t need any of the sharing capabilities mentioned above.

In this case, check all options on the Sharing folder under System Preferences to make sure that nobody is allowed to access it and turn off (uncheck) all options.

How To Tell If Your Mac Was Hacked

Finding out if screen sharing or remote management were enabled and if your screen was being observed is the first step in knowing whether your Mac was hacked or not.

There are other places to check, and I listed them below.

Pay Attention To Four Signs Of Hacked Macs

If you are reading this post, chances are you noticed something unusual is happening on your Mac.

Sometimes you have a hunch, but you can’t explain it. However, most of those signs can be explained by reasons other than malware or hackers.

So, let’s review the major signs.

Mac suddenly became slow for no apparent reasons

Following are some of the reasons why Mac can be slow:

  • There is a virus or other malware
  • Not enough disk space on Mac
  • New OS was installed
  • Hardware failure

Mac is using more Internet than usual

This one is harder to detect now than before.

We used to have limits on how much Internet bandwidth we could use. Today, when many people have unlimited cable data, you may not even know that something is happening.

Is My Webcam Hacked Mac Computer

However, if you are on a limited plan and see a significant increase in data consumption (more than 25% more), it’s time to investigate.

The reasons could be the following:

  • Your Mac is being used as a bot by hackers
  • There is a virus or other malware
  • Your little one grew up and now watching YouTube all day on your computer
  • Someone is stealing your Wi-Fi (read more below)

Similar to the previous sign, problems with the Internet could be a sign pointing to a virus or adware affecting the browser.

Or it could be a new browser update. Or maybe the system became unstable.

Programs crashing more often

Did you notice that apps getting stuck and eventually crashing?

Very often, it’s a sign of malware.

Additional reasons for frequent app crashes are the following:

  • Lack of memory (RAM)
  • Lack of disk space
  • Temporary system instability
  • Hardware failure
  • Unusual pop-ups in the browser

This is something we all have seen. You download an app from the Internet, and it seems like it was legit software. But little did you know a good app was bundled with bloatware.

Usually, the result is that your default search engine gets changed from Google to Yahoo, the home page changes, and there are additional icons in the browser toolbar.

But there could be other issues such as adware.

Adware is trying to redirect you to other sites not related to what you are searching for.

Their goal is to direct traffic to certain sites. More traffic, more money they get. So, they litter your screen with pop-up, hoping that you can click and open the site you don’t want.

New files appear or old files disappear

Malware often creates new files with cryptic names. For instance, ransomware encrypts the files on your disk and renames them. However, there could be more innocent explanations.

For instance, if you can’t find a file, it does not necessarily mean that it was deleted by malware or someone who logged in on your computer remotely. Maybe, you just can’t remember that you deleted the file or the folder. In this case, first, check Trash on Mac.

If you still can’t find what you need, check my post about finding any files. I guarantee, if the file is still on your Mac after reading my post, you will be able to locate it.

Eliminate False Positives From Consideration

While you are maybe suspecting something bad happening on your computer, it very well may be a normal condition.

Things to try before starting panicking:

Reboot

Sometimes glitches in software can make the current state of your system unstable. A reboot is still a remedy for many problems. You can either restart or shutdown and start again. The effect will be the same.

NVRAM/PRAM reset

Macs have a little memory chip where they store some configuration information needed for many Mac peripherals to work. Surprisingly, this area gets corrupt pretty often.

Fortunately, there is a very simple fix – reset NVRAM/PRAM and SMC.

Apple has very good instructions on how to perform these tasks.

What they don’t tell is that you have to reset at 2-3 times in a row for a fix to work. I found out this in the school of hard knocks so that you don’t need to.

Clear some space on disk

Lack of space on your startup disk may cause all kinds of issues: app slowdown, app crashes, high CPU usage, and MacBook overheating. Sometimes this may lead you to suspect that your Mac was hacked.

So, first, check how much storage you have left. And if it is not enough, you can either spend money on getting software that helps to clean your disk or read my article on free cleaning tips:

New operating system

Apple releases a new version of macOS every year. While they do everything they can to produce quality software, bugs still happen.

For instance, after the recent iOS update on my iPhone, my podcast app starts freezing every time I pause. I still didn’t find why it is happening because I am too lazy busy.

In the case of the issue on hand, if you had a recent OS update, take time to investigate if the issues you are noticing are common for the release.

Check for hardware failure

Macs are very dependable, and they can serve for many years.

However, any hardware gradually fails. For example, a failing disk causes unexplained app crashes. Failed RAM will prevent the computer from starting.

There is a good article on the Apple website about running hardware diagnostics. Try and see what it will report. Github app for macos.

Check Mac For Keyloggers (Legal And Malware)

For a long time, I thought that all keyloggers could do to record keyboard strokes.

Imagine my shock when I started working on my post about keyloggers.

Suppose you are still suspecting that spyware is running on your machine.

In that case, you can use a third-party application like Little Snitch, which monitors applications, preventing or permitting them to connect to attached networks through advanced rules.

Setting up the rules for Little Snitch, however, could be complicated.

One of the typical spyware applications is a keystroke logger or keylogger. Keyloggers used to be apps that record the letters you type on the keyboard, but they significantly changed in the last few years.

Is My Webcam Hacked Macbook Pro

Suffice to say that keyloggers can take screenshots every 30 seconds or even track your chat activity, including the messages sent to you.

I believe that keyloggers are a much greater security threat because they are easier to install and the powerful features they offer.

Check my article about keyloggers here:

Verify If New User Accounts Have Been Added

As we’ve seen already, remote login or sharing options require assigning access roles to the local users.

If your system was hacked, it is very likely that the hacker has added a new user to access it. To find out all users in macOS perform the following steps:

  1. Start Terminal app by either going to Applications and then the Utilities folder or clicking Command and Space and typing Terminal in the pop-up window.
  2. In the Terminal window type:

On my laptop, it listed macmyths, nobody, root, and daemon. Macmyths is my current user, and the rest are system accounts.

If you see the accounts that you do not recognize then they probably have been created by a hacker.

To find when the last time all user accounts been used, type the following command into the Terminal:

For each account, MacOS will list the times and dates of logins. If the login to any of the accounts happened at an abnormal time, it is possible that a hacker used a legitimate account to log in.

Check The Logs For Possible Access Issues

It may be useful to check the system logs for any possible access issues.

In order to find a system log, click on the Go option in the top menu or simultaneously click Shift, Command, and G. In the “Go to Folder” pop-up type: /var/log and hit Enter.

Now find the system.log file and scan for word sharing.

For instance, I found the following screen sharing log entries:

These were log entries when someone logged in to my system remotely:

Verify Home Wi-Fi Was Not Hacked

Is My Webcam Hacked Mac

Your computer is not the only weak link you have to worry about.

Before the data flows into the system, it goes through the Wi-Fi router. And there are ways for bad guys to read all internet traffic, including emails and online transactions.

Check Which Programs Have Access To Camera And Mic

These are only two emails I received last month:

Email 1: “From a few days ago I’ve received an extortion email from y…[email protected] with threats to publish webcam video’s pictures from my wife and me in our intimate life. There are some things to verify if my computer’s webcam is under external control?”

Email 2: “I suspect my MAC has been compromised (I have a Macbook Pro) and all the software is up to date. I got an email from someone stating that they have recorded items via my MacBook camera. How can I check if this is possible?”

I guess that after reading these emails, you might have at least two questions:

  1. Is it possible for someone to record my camera?
  2. How can I know if someone recorded me?

First, it is entirely possible to record your camera remotely.

In fact, it’s very easy to do.

If a hacker has access to your Mac, all he needs is to launch a Quick Time Player (or Facetime) and start a new movie recording.

Obviously, there are other apps that can record the camera while being hidden.

If someone is recording you by using a MacBook camera, you will see a green light next to the camera.

In some cases, the green camera lights up even when there is no recording happening, only because a program got access to the device. But, it’s impossible to record without the green indicator off.

However, if you didn’t pay attention at the time of recording (were busy or not close to the computer), you will never be able to tell if you were recorded after the fact definitively.

In the older versions of the Mac operating system, you were able to use the lsof command with the Terminal, like so:

But lately, this command stopped providing anything useful.

So, instead of parsing Apple logs, get MicroSnitch to know whether your camera or microphone is engaged.

Mac

This is a very handy mini tool. When started, it appears in the menu bar on your Mac, and its icon changes if either video or audio, or both, become active.

Another cool feature is the Microsnitch log file. If you noticed any suspicious activity, you could check the log for past device activity.

If you want to use it, I suggest allowing it to run on startup. The app is very cheap – $3.99.

You can download it from their site or from Apple App Store.

Another thing to do is to go to System Preferences -> Security and Privacy.

Click on the Privacy tab and check programs under the Camera and Microphone sections. Remove the programs you don’t recognize (you can always add them back if needed).

And lastly, if you suspect that someone is controlling your laptop and if there is a chance that they are watching you thru the webcam, immediately apply a cover on the laptop’s webcam.

You can find my favorite webcam covers here.

Check Which Programs Run On Start

While you have System Preferences open, check one more thing.

Click on the Users and Groups icon, select the user, then click on the Login Items tab.

Remove items you don’t recognize.

Warning: Before removing the application, google it first. You don’t want to break the applications you need, right?

Install And Run Antimalware Program

I recently called Apple Support and complained about the slowness of my MacBook Pro.

I could’ve solved the problem myself, but I just wanted how much would it cost for Apple to perform diagnostics on a 5-year old MacBook.

Since I don’t have AppleCare for my Mac, I thought that they would charge me something.

Spoiler alert: they didn’t charge for anything.

So, when I called, the first thing the Apple advisor made me do is to install the Malwarebytes app.

While Malwarebytes is a solid recommendation for scanning, it is not the best. The same applies to the free version of Avast.

In fact, I stopped recommending it to any Mac user after the test I performed myself recently.

I tested a dozen of antimalware products, and only one detected 100% of 117 malware samples I intentionally downloaded on my MacBook.

So, if you need a recommendation on a good antivirus for Mac, check it here.

Set Up Traps Against Hackers

I found a cool and free tool that can be used to set traps if you think your computer was hacked. It’s called canary tokens.

When a potential hacker opens an email or a document with the token, it triggers an event in a remote location. And then you get an email notification.

What’s next?

Since I started this blog in 2019, I have been getting emails consistently from my readers. The interesting fact is that the majority of emails fall in two categories:

  • How to protect my Mac from hackers?
  • Which MacBook should I buy?

I have been answering individual emails, but since the number of emails was increasing steadily, I found myself not being able to help everyone. After all, I have a day job, and I have a family to take care of.

So, I decided to write a series of blogs about various security topics and put everything I know in one place, so everyone can find the answers to the questions they are asking.

I grouped all Mac security articles together, and the easiest way to follow them is by clicking the Next button at the bottom of each post.

It will take you some time (about 30 min), but in the end, you will know more about Mac security than most non-technical folks.

Or, you can use the following menu to jump directly to the topic of interest:

I also wrote a whole series of posts on antivirus solutions for Macs: