Why antivirus is blocking your camera?

I remember my first video call with someone. It was about 15 years ago when a smartphone didn’t exist. A camera on your phone was still a growing trend and unusual among my teenage friends. Things evolved quickly, and now cameras are everywhere. We even have a few on our phones. On laptops, webcams are a standard now. But it is annoying when we want to use it and seem not to work for some reason. A popup from your Antivirus tells you that your camera is blocked.

Why is an antivirus blocking your camera? Because it wants to protect you against potential untrusted software that is trying to access your webcam. A hacker can inject malware that can open your webcam without you knowing to spy you. Your Antivirus is trying to protect your privacy.

If you didn’t hear it before, this is a reality. Hackers are trying to access cameras all over the world. Some are interested in just opening your webcam without you knowing and watch you. Some other people want access to your pc and having access to your camera is only one of the things they can do. Let’s learn more about how a hacker can access your webcam, why that is happening, and how to prevent it.

How can a hacker get access to your webcam

There is no only a way that a hacker can get access to your device’s camera. He or She can target you individually, or it can be general malware. You can get it from virtually anywhere if you have an internet connection.

  • Email attachments. This is a common way that malware can get into your pc. You can get an email. That contains an attachment for you to download. It can be from an unknown sender. Someone can try to impersonate your bank or a person that you know. Be really careful about what you open or download from your email
  • Malicious Websites. For malware to infect your pc or mac, it has to be on it. Some websites can start an automatic download when you visit them. It will try to entice you to open the downloaded file. If the site is fishy, delete the attachment immediately.
  • Free wi-fi Connection. If you are at the library, airport, or other public spaces that offer free wi-fi, use a VPN to connect to them. Anyone that is linked to that network can see who else is using it. Can get some general information about any connected device and can also access shared files on your pc. You can easily get hacked from a free wi-fi connection.
  • Personal Attack. If someone close to you has a grudge on you and knows how to hack into a pc, you can get hacked. I was watching this video about a teenager that was hacked by one of her high school colleagues. He watched her for moths and eventually started blackmailing her. After he was caught, he confessed that he hacked into about 150 computers.

There are other ways your webcam can get hacked. These were just a few and more typical ways. Do a search on youtube on webcam hacking. The results will be socking. You will see news about not only webcam being hacked but baby monitors and doorbells. And this might surprise you, but there are actually online courses on how to hack a webcam. What is that? Really? Why are people publically teaching this?

Preventing camera hacking

There is no specific solution to this problem. Securing your camera is part of just one of the precautions you have to make. I don’t want someone snooping around and see what I do every day. I know I am an annoying person, but still, my boring life is mine and is not for share. So let’s see what we can do here.

  1. Cover your camera. There is a famous picture on the internet with Mark Zuckerberg’s laptop. He had a piece of tape over his webcam. Why? He doesn’t want to be spied. You should do the same. If you don’t want to use tape, you can always buy one of those webcams covers. They look better than tape.
  2. Unplug Your Camera when not used. If you use any other type of camera that is connected to the internet or network, unplug it when you don’t use it. There are a lot of stories out there about baby monitors or wi-fi cameras being hacked. So do yourself a favor and give it a break when you don’t need it.
  3. Use Strong Passwords. Wi-fi, online accounts, and device passwords should be as hard and long as you cand create them. If a hacker knows your device password can easily get access to your camera. Also, don’t use the same password. You can use a password manager to generate and store secure passwords.
  4. Use two-factor authentication. It will make it impossible for someone to get into your account. If your camera is connected to the internet with an online account, use this type of authentication if offered.
  5. Keep your system updated. Never miss an update! Windows and mac send those updates for a reason. And they want to make sure you are safe.

Unlock your camera

You did everything by the book, and all of your accounts and devices are secure, but your camera is still blocked. You are using legit software downloaded from the app store or from the developer’s website, and your camera is not turning on. What to do?

Well, if your Antivirus is blocking your camera, it means that this setting is enabled by default for all apps. You just have to change the setting under the privacy tab of your Antivirus.

Depending on what antivirus solution you have, you can disable this setting universally or pick the apps that can use your webcam.

Unlock camera on Windows Defender

Windows now come with its own built-in Antivirus. So if you don’t have a third-party antivirus, Windows defender can block your webcam. Here is what you need to do to enable it back.

  • Open Windows Defender Settings.
  • Select Virus & threat protection.
  • Go to Virus & threat protection settings
  • Click Add or remove exclusions.
  • Select the app you want to have access to your webcam

Unlock your webcam on Mac

While Windows doesn’t have this privacy feature, Mac comes with built-in webcam protection. It asks you every time a software wants to access your webcam. You have to grant access to each one of the apps you want to use your camera with. By default, the mac will not let any software access your camera without your permission.

If for some reason you disabled the notifications, or the access request will not pop up, here is the old-fashioned way:

  • Press Command + Space to open the search bar. 
  • Search for Security & Privacy
  • Select the Camera tab
  • Check the app you want to grant access to your camera
  • Restart that app. Sometimes you have to restart the app for those changes to take effect

Sometimes is not your Antivirus

You did all the things I mentioned, and still, your webcam is not coming up. There is a possibility that your drivers are out of date. Or the driver’s files we corrupted for some reason. What you can do is to reinstall your camera drivers and see what happens.

If your camera is still not turning on, it probably died. A laptop camera cannot be replaced. Or, if it can be, perhaps it will cost you more than buying a good external one or is time to upgrade your machine.

Someone spying on you is not pleasant. And it sucks to know that can happen. Sometimes I wish I don’t have a camera on my laptop. I have this mac for 2 years now, and I barely used its webcam. Do you know what’s funny? 15 years ago, when phone and web cameras were not near as good as they are now, I was using them more. Now I have a video call once in a while, and my phone is not ringing as much. Probably it is just me. I think the more access you have to a resource, the less you use it.

Stay safe and watch out for online threats. Knowledge will always give you the edge in the battle with hackers!