“People are starting to think about what happens when you can reprogram each of those,” Miller says.For example, he demonstrated an attack last year on the software that controls Apple batteries, which causes the battery to discharge rapidly, potentially leading to a fire or explosion.Most laptops with built-in cameras have an important privacy feature — a light that is supposed to turn on any time the camera is in use.
For example, it can make it easier for a school’s IT staff to administer a classroom full of computers.
Indeed, the devices the researchers studied were similar to Mac Books involved in a notorious case in Pennsylvania in 2008.
In that incident, administrators at Lower Merion High School outside Philadelphia reportedly captured 56,000 images of students using the RAT installed on school-issued laptops.
Students reported seeing a ‘creepy’ green flicker that indicated that the camera was in use.
The 2008-era Apple products they studied had a “hardware interlock” between the camera and the light to ensure that the camera couldn’t turn on without alerting its owner.
But Checkoway and his co-author, Johns Hopkins graduate student Matthew Brocker, were able to get around this security feature.
That helped to alert students to the issue, eventually leading to a lawsuit.
But more sophisticated remote monitoring tools may already have the capabilities to suppress the warning light, says Morgan Marquis-Boire, a security researcher at the University of Toronto.
One laptop, many chips The built-in cameras on Apple computers were designed to prevent this, says Stephen Checkoway, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins and a co-author of the study.