Over the last year, we have become more dependent than ever on the webcams on our laptops. Many of us have them on multiple times a day for video conferencing and one-on-one video calls. Many modern devices have LED lights next to the webcam to make us aware that they are active. Still, since we use them so often that we might stop noticing. We have just become so accustomed to that little camera looking into our world that we just stop thinking about it.
What we forget is that, in theory, that camera could give anyone an unobstructed view into our world. We tend to pay attention to what we are doing when we are in an active video call. However, when the call is over, we tend to act as though we have some level of privacy. It doesn’t occur to us that someone might still be watching. That is why it is critical to understand what applications might be accessing your video camera and what you can do to stop them.
Typical Applications Using Your Webcam
There are some applications most of us think of when we think of webcams. Of course, video conferencing software like Zoom and Skype use our webcams. Other typical applications that may use our webcams may include video editing software like Camtasia, streaming applications like OBS, gaming software, and even software specifically designed for your camera. This is especially true if you have added an external webcam from a manufacturer like Logitech. They often have software that accesses the camera to help you optimize your settings.
Things get a little more confusing when we get to web browsers. Software like Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Apple Safari, and Mozilla Firefox may access your webcam. What makes this less clear is that it can be challenging to determine why. It may be perfectly normal. Many video conferencing apps have browser-based options that require camera access. Many websites allow you to capture video from your webcam. They may provide a service that will enable you to chat with someone else, record videos for sharing on social media or even capture an image of your credit card for online payment. Still, we all need to be aware that there are always nefarious actors that may take advantage of this permission to capture video without us knowing.
Less Common Applications that May Use Your Webcam
There is really no limit to the number and type of applications that may access your webcam. There are security apps that capture video to allow users to keep tabs on their home or office. Remote workers are often assigned monitoring software that tracks when they are at their desk. Even freelancers may use specialized software to show when they are working on a particular task. Webcams can also be used for facial recognition to access computers or specific programs and data.
How to See What Applications Are Accessing Your Webcam and Stop Them
It is relatively simple to determine what applications are accessing your webcam. While you are checking, in many cases, it is just as easy to revoke access from those apps.
To see what apps have access to your webcam in Windows 10
- Step 1: Go to Settings from the Start menu or use the Win+I shortcut.
- Step 2: From the main settings page, click on the Privacy tile.
- Step 3: Click on Camera under App Permissions.
- Step 4: There are two separate sections on this page. The top section handles applications from the Microsoft Store. These offer a more granular level of control than other apps. You can turn each application’s access on or off by clicking on the toggle next to its name.
Other desktop apps are handled in the Desktop App section. Here you can see what applications access to the webcam and the last time access have was used by the application. Unfortunately, for desktop apps, you cannot toggle access on and off for each individual app only for all desktop apps.
It is important to note that Microsoft makes it clear that not all desktop apps are necessarily listed here. While most reputable apps will show up here, malicious apps can easily bypass this notification. There is currently no simple way within Windows to identify and stop these applications. One option is to only install software from the Microsoft Store or applications that you otherwise trust. Other than that, read on to see some other options to stay secure.
To see what apps can access your webcam on a MacBook, iMac, Mac Mini, or MacPro,
- Step 1: Go to System Preferences either via your applications folder or from the Apple menu at the top left of the screen.
- Step 2: Click on Security and Privacy, then choose camera from the list on the left. From there, you can see all the applications that have been granted access to the webcam.
- Step 3: To revoke access, check to see if the padlock on the bottom left is locked. If so, click to unlock and enter your password when prompted. Untick the checkbox next to any applications you wish to revoke access for. Click the padlock again when you are done.
3 Things to look out for
Watch the light: Most modern computer webcams, both built-in and third-party, have activation lights. While there are ways to deactivate these lights, a glowing LED is a pretty sure sign your camera is active. If you aren’t using it, you may want to see who is.
Strange Storage files: If someone records footage via your webcam, that video or audio footage is usually saved among your existing storage files. So if a file pops up from nowhere, then that would be a red alert. Always check out for files you did not create, most particularly in your webcam recordings folder
Check for strange background apps: Always be on the lookout for software/apps that are running on your computer without you having installed them, this is called malware. The two most common ways malware makes gets into your computer through normal applications you use every day as well as apps downloaded from unsecured websites where the malware app finds an easy way to imbed into your operating system and run in the background.
Keep Your Software Up to Date
Both Microsoft and Apple are continually looking for security issues, malware and bugs that could make it easy for people to surreptitiously access their software. While it can feel like a hassle to keep up with the latest operating system updates, it is one of the best ways to keep your system secure. Hackers often take advantage of the security holes in outdated software. Either adjust your settings to allow for auto-updates or be sure to check for updates regularly.
Run Malware Scans
A previously mentioned, malware is one of the most notorious methods for accessing webcams and critical data. There are many free and low-cost malware scanners available. They will scan your computer to look for software that matches their regularly updated library of malware and remove it before it can do any damage. Check pricing here for some of the top names of
anti-malware scanning software.
The One Foolproof Option
If you want to be 100% sure no one is peaking into your room and your life through your webcam, there is one foolproof option: cover it up when you aren’t using it. There are several ways to do this, including built-in or aftermarket webcam covers. For users of external webcams, unplugging it or laying it facedown will work. The least elegant yet effective method involves just sticking a piece of black electrical tape over your camera and pulling it off when you need to use it.