In recent years, we’ve seen PC manufacturers start to adopt physical camera shutters and kill switches for webcams to keep them from being exploited by hackers when not in use. This privacy boost can be seen in laptops from both Lenovo and HP, but Microsoft’s Surface devices have thus far avoided taking this approach. Speaking with PC World, Microsoft Technical Fellow and lead at its Applied Sciences Group, Stevie Bathiche, explained Microsoft’s decision and the steps it has taken to make sure the camera remains secure.
In short, Microsoft relies on the LED next to the webcam to let you know its on. This works, Bathiche explains, because the camera system is physically disconnected from the rest of the system, which should make it much more difficult to exploit.
“The light is not software-controlled,” Bathiche told PC World. “The light is controlled by the camera itself, which is detached from the system, which means if that light’s on, it’s sending data, period.” Bathiche further explained that it’s impossible for the camera to be on without the light also being on.
As for the microphone, Bathiche explained that Microsoft felt it was important to make it obvious when it’s in use through an icon that appears on your taskbar. “That’s one of the things that we felt was important for customers to understand when the microphone’s on,” Bathiche said.
Regardless, Microsoft feels the disconnected nature of the camera components, combines with a base of secure software and drivers, should be enough to thwart those with ill intentions.