Modern computing devices often come equipped with cameras and microphones attached to them to facilitate collaboration and teamwork in a mobile workforce that is disbursed across different physical locations. The audio/visual hardware is necessary for conferencing, document sharing, and other coordinated activities. But how do you know exactly who and what has access to your device's camera and microphone at any given time?
With the deployment of the Windows 10 April 2018 Update, Microsoft has simplified application access to cameras and microphones. Easier access to these devices encourages the development of more and better collaboration applications, but it also allows for the possibility of abuse by criminals and unscrupulous individuals by creating yet another potential security vulnerability.
However, the April 2018 Update also adds more control and more granularity to the Windows 10 privacy settings associated with your camera and microphone. The new privacy settings allow users to decide for themselves whether their audio/visual hardware is accessible and, if it is, which applications have that access.
This how-to tutorial shows you how to access both the camera and the microphone privacy settings after the Windows 10 April 2018 Update.
Note: This article is also available as part of a free PDF that features a variety of Windows 10 April 2018 Update tips and techniques.
To access the camera privacy settings, first open the main Windows 10 Settings screen by clicking (tapping) the Start Menu button, and then clicking the Settings icon. Click the Privacy link to reach the configuration screen, and then click the Camera item located in the left navigation bar as shown in Figure A.
This first button is called Change and will allow you to completely turn off camera access, if you wish. This off switch turns off access by both applications and users, which do not have admin-level authentication.
The second on/off button on this page allows users to flip the switch depending on their needs. When this switch is set to the on position, users can choose which specific applications have access to the camera. Scroll down the page (Figure B) to see each individual application's current setting.
In most cases, there will be more than a few applications that don't warrant access to your camera. They are on by default, so turn them off now. You can turn them on later if you ever need them.
SEE: Malicious AI: A guide for IT leaders (Tech Pro Research)
The microphone privacy settings are similar to the camera settings. Navigate to Windows 10 Settings and then Privacy as before, only in this case you will click the Microphone item located in the left navigation bar as shown in Figure C.
Like before, the Change button will turn off access to the microphone for both applications and users without admin privileges. If you choose to leave access to the microphone on, you can scroll down the page (Figure D) to specify which applications have access.
Almost all of the applications are set to the on position by default, so you should take a few moments to shut down access for apps you are not using. You can always turn the apps back on if you need to use them.
SEE: Quick glossary: Encryption (Tech Pro Research)
Privacy versus security
While turning off access to your camera and microphone through the Windows 10 settings does help create a slightly more secure environment, it will not be enough to prevent a determined criminal hacker from gaining access to your audio/visual hardware.
However, tweaking these settings will prevent access by badly designed and otherwise misbehaving applications hell-bent on using your camera and microphone. If nothing else, denying access in this way should eliminate some potentially annoying and frustrating experiences.
- Windows 10 April 2018 Update: How to control the personal data you send to Microsoft (TechRepublic)
- New privacy settings in Windows 10 April 2018 Update: What you need to know (CNET)
- Windows 10 April 2018 Update: How to turn off suggestions in Cortana and Timeline (TechRepublic)
- 5 hidden features of Windows 10 April 2018 Update (CNET)
- Here's how you can still get a free Windows 10 upgrade (ZDNet)
- Windows 10 April 2018 Update: All the new features explained (TechRepublic)
- Windows 10 April 2018 Update: Problems knock users but adoption still soars to 50% (ZDNet)
- Microsoft Windows zero-day vulnerability disclosed through Twitter (ZDNet)
Do you know which apps have access to your camera and microphone right now? Share your thoughts and opinions with your peers at TechRepublic in the discussion thread below.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.