Security

How to use OverSight to track when hackers access your webcam

Certain Mac malware can access a user's webcam to spy on them undetected. Here's how you can use the free tool OverSight to protect yourself.

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Image: Josh Miller/CNET

One of the biggest concerns for webcam users is that their camera and mic could be hacked and used to spy on them without their knowledge. While once thought to be an irrational fear, the sight of tech leaders like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg with tape over their webcams has likely caused concern for even more users.

Apple's MacBook and iMac line, once thought to be malware immune, have been the victim of multiple forms of malware, such as OSX/Eleanor, OSX/Crisis, and OSX/Mokes, that have been used to accomplish just that task. However, new software called OverSight will now help monitor your system, "alerting a user whenever the internal microphone is activated, or the built-in webcam is accessed," the software's website said.

Typically, your webcam's LED light will turn on whenever the camera is accessed. But, the OverSight website noted that new malware exists that can jump into the camera and mic while they're being used in programs like FaceTime or Skype and record undetected.

SEE: Security awareness and training policy (Tech Pro Research)

At the time of this writing OverSight is on version 1.0.0 and is compatible with OS X 10.10 and later. To start, you'll want to download the software, which is free, which you can do by clicking here. Note: The download will start as soon as you click the link.

To find the downloaded ZIP file, head to your Dock and click the "Finder" icon, then click where is says "Downloads" on the left-hand side of the Finder window. Double-click the ZIP file to access the installer, which will look like a green umbrella and be called "OverSight_Installer."

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Next, double-click the OverSight_Installer, and enter your login credentials if you are prompted to do so. In the OverSight window that opens, click the button on the right that says "Install" to begin the installation.

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Once it has finished installing, the software will be running in the background every time you login. You can tell it is running if you see a black umbrella icon displayed on the right of the menu bar, near the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth icons. Clicking on the umbrella will open a drop-down menu showing active devices and an option to access your preferences.

Whenever your internal microphone or webcam is accessed, OverSight will alert you with a notification. The notification for mic access simply has an "Ok" button to dismiss it, but the notification alerting you that your camera was accessed will tell you the name of the process attempting to access it and give you the option to "allow" or "block" access to the camera.

On its site, OverSight does mention that sophisticated hackers may be able to succeed in bypassing OverSight's protections.

"Moreover, the current version over OverSight utilizes user-mode APIs in order to monitor for audio and video events," the sight said. "Thus any malware that has a kernel-mode or rootkit component may be able to access the webcam and mic in an undetected manner."

But, the company also noted that this is the first version of the software and they are working on improvements for future versions.

Background

In the early days of webcams, fears that the technology could be hacked and used for nefarious purposes were relegated to conspiracy theorists. However, after it was discovered that Russian hackers had gained access to personal webcams and broadcast them to the public, the threat moved into the cybersecurity spotlight. The recent Edward Snowden biopic, starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, features a prominent scene where a webcam is hacked, and Snowden himself has recommended covering your webcam, and former FBI director James Comey was known to use tape to cover his laptop webcam as well.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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