Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to tamper-resistant indicators for electronic devices including MacBooks. In theory, with Apple's invention you'll be less likely to be spied on and filmed in secret.
Today's electronic devices such as desktop computers, laptop computers, smartphones, and tablet computers are often provided with cameras. Electronic devices with cameras can include an indicator light to indicate when the camera is recording, to alert the user and/or others in the vicinity of the camera that they may be being recorded. However, conventional devices having cameras and indicator lights can be vulnerable to tampering to disable the indicator light, which can expose the user or others to being recorded without notification.
In a Quora forum entry a year ago titled "Can people hack into your MacBook and secretly record you from the camera?" Michael Rutledge, a 20-year veteran in systems and network engineering, responded in-part this way: "I have personally seen targeted attacks go after sensitive people running the latest patches and practicing good security hygiene successfully and use such attack methods. It’s a real thing."
While some think it's debatable, a new Apple patent shows their work to ensure camera hacking doesn't happen, proving it's technically still an issue.
Apple's invention covers systems, devices, and methods for prevention of masking, disabling, destroying, and/or otherwise tampering with a visual indicator that a camera is recording or otherwise capturing images or other information. In one or more implementations, a light sensor is provided in close proximity to a visual indicator (e.g., a light source such as a light-emitting diode (LED) configured as an indicator light for the camera) and coupled to the camera, such that insufficient light received by the light sensor disables the camera. In this way, if the indicator light is covered, masked, or damaged (e.g., in an attempt to allow the camera to record and/or capture other information such as images, sound, depth or other information without an indication of recording by the indicator light), the light sensor resultantly disables operation of the camera.
In some scenarios, a user of the device or another actor may attempt to operate the camera (#105 seen below) without alerting the user or others that the camera is operating, by attempting to disable, destroy, or mask the light source (#116 below). Such an attempt can be a physical attempt made by a person at the physical location of the electronic device (MacBook #100 below - e.g., by placing a finger or a material such as tape, ink, or paint over the light source or by physically destroying the light source) to prevent the light from being generated by the light source and/or projected from the housing. Such an attempt can alternatively be an electronic attempt made by a person or machine at the location of the electronic device or at another location by attempting to reprogram software and/or firmware at the device to allow operation of the camera 105 without operating the light source 116.
In accordance with one or more implementations, the electronic device of FIG. 1 implements one or more components and/or processes as described in the patent filing to prevent physical and/or electronic attempts to operate camera without the operation of a corresponding indicator light.
For example, as shown in FIG. 1, electronic device includes a light sensor #118 that may be disposed adjacent to the light source #116 and arranged to receive light from the external environment of electronic device. Light source #118 may be configured to disable the camera #105 if, for example, an amount of light received by the light sensor is below a threshold.
For example, in one or more implementations, the light source #116 and the light sensor #118 are co-located within the MacBook (or device) in sufficient proximity that masking or destroying the light source #116 (e.g., to prevent the projection of the light out of the housing #106) correspondingly masks or destroys the light sensor #118.
Apple's patent FIG. 9 above Apple presents a flow chart of an example process for operating an electronic device having a camera, a light source, and a light sensor.
For those interested, review Apple's patent application number 20220094833 for more details.
Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.