How to turn off your webcam and protect it from hackers – for free
Webcams are great for sharing moments with friends and family, but not so great if you get spied on by malicious websites or malicious apps.
Antivirus software vendors like Avast, Bitdefender, Norton, and others offer internet security suites that alert you to unauthorized access to your webcam and allow you to block untrusted applications.
However, you don’t have to spend a lot of money or install heavy security suites just to gain more control over your webcam. Change a couple of system settings, and you can do it right now … and for free!
Disable access to the webcam from your browser
If you’re primarily concerned with websites accessing your camera, the solution might be a simple browser click or two.
In Chrome, for example, click Settings, Privacy and security, Site settings. Scroll down, click Camera, and make sure the default is “Don’t allow sites to use your camera”.
If you are on a site and decide that it should be able to use your webcam after all, just click on the site icon (padlock) to the left of the address bar, then click on the “Camera: not allowed” button. to activate it. Chrome is still blocking access to the webcam for other websites, but it will be able to use the camera in the future.
You can find similar options in Firefox, in Settings> Privacy & security> Camera permissions in Firefox. And in Safari, visit Preferences, Websites, Camera and make sure “All other websites” is set to Deny.
Disable access to the webcam by applications
Controlling browser access to your webcam is a smart way to prevent external attacks, but it is possible that a malicious application will capture images without your knowledge.
Fortunately, most platforms have permission-based systems that let you control what an app can and can’t do. Set the default camera permission to Off and no app will be able to access your webcam until you specifically approve it. (In theory, anyway. Real life can be more complicated, but we’ll talk about that in a moment.)
In Windows, press Win + I to launch Settings, then click on Privacy, Camera.
Scroll down and you’ll find switches to turn off webcam access for specific apps. Or for added security, turn off “Allow apps to access your camera” to block apps from the Microsoft Store, and turn off the “Allow desktop apps to access your camera” setting to cover everything else.
Life is a bit easier on mobile devices, where you can usually just turn off permissions for your camera app. On Android, go to Settings, Applications, Camera, Permissions, Disable; on iOS, go to Settings, Restrictions, Camera, Disable.
Completely disable a webcam
Application authorization systems work well most of the time, but there are exceptions. For example, Windows can only control webcam use for applications that use standard Windows commands to access your hardware. If an app installs a driver or uses some other sneaky trick, disabling webcam permissions might not make any difference.
If you really want to disable a webcam completely, then – so nothing can use it at all – you will get better results by disabling it at the device or driver level.
In Windows, click Start, type Device Manager, and press Enter. Click the arrow to the left of Cameras to expand the device list, right-click your camera and select Disable. (Right-click and choose Enable if you need to restore access to the camera later.)
Other platforms generally do not provide access to devices at this level. There are apps that can help you out, but beware, they can cause new problems.
The Permanently Disable Camera Android app always turns your camera off, for example, and even blocks factory resets to prevent you from recovering it. It works, but it’s a serious step, and you need to be very sure what you’re doing before you try it. (Just read the reviews of many people who didn’t realize that “permanently deactivate” really means “permanently”.)
If that’s a little too scary, there’s always the tried and true method of “sticking tape on the lens”. Not exactly stylish, but it does work, and it’s super easy to reverse when you find you need your camera after all.