This is getting really weird

Last Wednesday I wrote about the strange experience that I had with my computers three years ago when the camera light would unexpectedly come on and stay on until I put it into sleep mode or shut it down. This problem baffled even senior engineers at Apple but then the problem disappeared just as suddenly and inexplicably as it started.

In my post, I speculated as to whether I had been the random victim of an NSA experiment at spying using webcams, as Edward Snowden has disclosed that they do, but pooh-poohed the idea as being too paranoid.

Now here’s the really weird thing. On Saturday, just three days after I put up that post but after an absence of three years, the light suddenly came on again! And not once but twice, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. And on Sunday, the light came on three times . On all these occasions the light came on only for a brief moment, about a second or less, and went off by itself. I am not sure if this is because before I had nothing covering the camera lens but now I have a piece of masking tape. If the light keeps coming on, I am going to try removing the tape and see if the light stays on for longer.

Maybe I should start getting paranoid.


  1. joeschoeler says

    I would be paranoid too. I’ve also heard that it’s possible to turn on the camera without activating the light, by uploading malicious firmware to the device.

  2. DsylexicHippo says

    My windows laptop does not have a light so there’s no easy way of knowing about something like that. Scotch tape works fine for me.

  3. colnago80 says

    This may be a stupid question question but why do you have a camera in the computer in the first place? I have an IMAC and there is no camera. Seems to me that the answer to this conundrum is to have it removed.

  4. Trebuchet says

    Is there an internal microphone as well as the camera? That’s even scarier, if true.

  5. doublereed says

    Most computers (especially laptops) have an internal mic. I’m not really sure where it is in the computer.

    You could download Wireshark for free. It just records packets that your computer sends and receives. When the light turns on you could record if your computer is sending packets out to a weird IP. A digital forensics guy might be able to look at it and tell you if it’s been compromised or something.

  6. jamessweet says

    It is far more likely you are the victim of a script kiddie rather than the NSA. It’s quite possible that’s what’s happening, and the reason it disappeared for a while is that whoever has the malware on your computer decided they were never going to see an attractive young woman behind the keyboard.

    Of course, it could also be even simpler. I had that happen one time, and I had just recently read an article about people commandeering webcams… and then I realized that my wife was logged in on the other account on the computer and had an app open that was using the camera. Heh… Sometimes the dumbest explanation are the right ones after all 🙂

  7. sailor1031 says

    older iMacs didn’t have a camera but more recent ones do. It’s at the top of the case above the screen.

    And yes, your computers do all have built-in microphones if they are less than about twenty years old.

  8. says

    You have effectively disabled your camera by covering the lens — to disable the internal microphone, just connect anything with a 1/8″ plug to the external microphone jack. Don’t use a working headphone — that’s a transducer that can act as a microphone — but if you have some headphones you don’t care about, you can cut off the plug and just use that. [And, Sailor1031, for the record, none of my computers has an internal microphone, but if a computer has a camera, then surely it has a mic to go with it.]

  9. Jörg says

    Hi Mano,

    if your camera gets activated by an intruder, you have a much bigger problem than them watching you. Your Mac would be open to all kinds of malicious and possibly criminal activity. I suggest you get a professional to look at it.

    Also, in the year 1 AS (after Snowden) I regard closed-source operating systems from your country as NSA operating systems. There are user-friendly open-source alternatives …

  10. Jörg says

    Hi Mano,

    I wrote:
    if your camera gets activated by an intruder, you have a much bigger problem than them watching you. Your Mac would be open to all kinds of malicious and possibly criminal activity.
    To drive the point home, e.g. child p*rn emanating from your computer can lead to severe legal and social problems for you.

  11. Holms says

    Mano, I highly recommend disconnecting cameras and discrete microphones when they are not in use. No amount of hacking can overcome the lack of a physical connection!

  12. Mano Singham says


    The camera and microphone are built in so cannot be disconnected but I will adopt the remedies suggested in #9.


    Thanks for that link. It is quite disturbing and I have asked the security chief at my university what he knows about combating this.


    Thanks for the tip about Wireshark. I’ll check it out.

  13. lorn says

    I assume you have a reliable firewall, anti-virus program, malware removal tools and that you keep everything updated and scanned. You could also check the firewall when you see the light come on, many of them log suspicious activity. A the very least I would update all your security tools and scan the computer to make sure you haven’t picked up a virus or worm.

    Also consider disconnecting any camera/s or microphone/s and/or disabling them until you have some important and immediate need for them to be working.

  14. Mano Singham says


    Yes, I have everything you mention and they are all up-to-date. I also spoke to the chief security officer at my university and he said that most of these malware that he has heard of are designed for Windows machines though that does not mean there could not be one for Macs too.

    I will be disabling both as you recommend. I almost never use them anyway!

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