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Security essential: How to lock down your Mac webcam

To help protect your identity, we make it a point to share how destructive and dangerous it can be when your personal information is exposed. Alas, data breach horror stories continue to make headlines.

Websites and digital platforms aren’t the only targets for hackers. Tap or click here to learn about popular restaurant chains hit by card-stealing malware. While our data breach stories tend to revolve around well-known companies, their records are not the only data hackers seek.

Your home computer is equally vulnerable, if not more so. If you’re a macOS user, you know Apple takes significant measures to protect your device and digital data from viruses and malware. But what’s one thing Apple doesn’t offer protection from? Your webcam. It’s time to learn how to lock it down.

Privacy Protection

Your webcam is a valuable and useful tool you likely use often. But the risk of a hacker breaching your privacy or exploiting your personal data is real. To help eliminate this threat, the macOS Mojave update introduced more restrictions for apps that access your built-in webcam.

Before its release, some apps had nearly free rein over your webcam and didn’t require your permission to access data from your:

  • Photos
  • Microphone
  • Contacts
  • Calendar
  • Emails
  • Webcam

To better protect your device against malware and the like, this easy entry to your files was put to rest with Mojave. Now, apps wanting to view your data must request authorization from you first.

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Unfortunately, Mojave’s update can cause app crashes if older, outdated apps attempt to access the resources on your device without consent. To manage what apps have access to your webcam, open System Preferences >> Security & Privacy >> Privacy.

Click Camera to view apps that have requested access. Uncheck the box next to apps you don’t want to grant access to. Follow the same steps for your microphone, contacts and so on.

Website preferences

In addition to better built-in privacy protection, you can enable and disable both your camera and microphone when visiting certain websites, provided your device is running macOS High Sierra or later.

To manage these preferences, open Safari >> Preferences from the top menu or press and hold down the Command key and the Back “<” button.

Tap Websites >> Camera. To the right is a list of all the currently open websites. Each has a drop-down menu from which you can choose to Deny or Allow the site access your camera.

The Ask option will require a website to request your permission before it can access your camera. At the bottom corner of the pop-up window, you can set your default policy for all new websites. You can further manage sites and their access to your microphone, contacts and the like.

Basic but effective options

Not every Mac owner runs the latest software or works on the newest machines. For those who use older models and operating systems like macOS Sierra or earlier, there are ways you can block access to your webcam.

RELATED: Is your Mac at risk for more malware threats?

Disable your webcam

Did you know you can simply disable your webcam? This is found in the Parental Controls section and is meant to keep your kids safe, but it can also keep you safe.

Open System Preferences >> Parental Controls >> Enable Parental Controls. You may have to click the Lock Icon and enter your Admin Password to gain access. On the Parental Controls screen, select User Account >> Apps tab >> uncheck Allow Use of Camera.

By adjusting this setting, your Mac will prevent all apps from using the built-in camera or the Webcam plugin if you have one installed.

But what if you want to use the camera sometimes? It can be a pain going back and forth in your settings. Luckily, there’s a pretty simple option.

Tape it up

When in doubt, tape up your camera. While a Band-Aid can work in a pinch and duct tape and masking tape will suffice, the best choice is painter’s tape. It is thick enough to cover the lens completely and is easy to remove without leaving a sticky residue.

BONUS: Although you know you want to keep your webcam from recording you, many forget about the microphone. To adjust microphone settings, follow the previous steps but instead of opening the Camera section, look for the Microphone option.

RELATED: No you’re not paranoid – your phone really is listening in

Overall, Macs are reliable and are good at protecting your data; however, that doesn’t mean you should rely on the default settings to protect you and your family. Make the appropriate adjustments and you’ll be good to go.

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