Apple often gets things right, but its advice on MacBook cameras is dangerously wrong.
But Apple’s recent move to tell users not to use camera covers to protect their privacy on their MacBooks has me confused, because it’s simply wrong.
Apple says in a support document not to close your MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro with a cover over the camera. “If you close your Mac notebook with a camera cover installed, you might damage your display because the clearance between the display and keyboard is designed to very tight tolerances,” Apple says.
As an alternative to a camera cover, Apple says to use the camera indicator light to determine if your camera is active, and to decide which apps can use your camera in System Preferences.
Sure, a webcam cover could damage your Macbook’s screen when you close it, if it’s too thick (Apple says more than 0.1mm). But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cover your webcam at all.
Apple says the indicator light will show if someone’s recording you, but by the time you notice this, it could be too late. It also shows a lot of confidence—Apple is saying a cyberattack can never take place where the adversary is able to take over the webcam and turn off this indicator light.
Why doesn’t Apple simply tell people to use a post it note to cover their camera—or even like some people I know, a piece of opaque tape?
Or better still, why doesn’t Apple build its own webcam into MacBooks? The firm is certainly not shy of bringing out new designs, especially ones that help improve privacy. It’s a small hardware change that could make a massive difference.
Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET, agrees, saying: “Although I’m surprised that Apple hasn’t yet designed a beautiful built-in web cam cover, I’m more shocked that it is brazen enough to suggest MacBook owners shouldn’t use one.”
He adds: “It would be dangerous to advocate that Apple’s camera software won’t be subject to an attack in the future too.”
There are a multitude of attacks you are vulnerable to if hackers can access your webcam. Among them, says Moore, extortion “is usually the first crime that is seen.”
“If people are viewed in very personal moments such as undressing by remote hackers, they could be extorted and threatened to have the footage published online if they don’t pay.”
For extra security you could use an app such as OverSight, which monitors to identify when your webcam and microphone become active.
But Apple’s advice really doesn’t make sense. By all means be careful with your screen and try and use a thin camera cover, but if that’s not an option, use a post it note, tape, anything—just don’t resort to removing your cover altogether.