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The researchers have released proof-of-concept software to demonstrate the trick, including a paper , entitled iSeeYou: Disabling the MacBook Webcam Indicator LED. The study provides the first public confirmation that a sophisticated hacker tactic long suspected to be part of the playbook of intelligence agencies, feds and others is not only possible but relatively straightforward.The same technique that allows us to disable the LED, namely reprogramming the firmware that runs on the iSight, enables a virtual machine escape whereby malware running inside a virtual machine reprograms the camera to act as a USB Human Interface Device (HID) keyboard which executes code in the host operating system. We build two proofs-of-concept: (1) an OS X application, iSeeYou, which demonstrates capturing video with the LED disabled; and (2) a virtual machine escape that launches Terminal.app and runs shell commands. To defend against these and related threats, we build an OS X kernel extension, iSightDefender, which prohibits the modification of the iSight’s firmware from user space. The research focused on MacBook and iMac computers released before 2008 (iMac G5 and early Intel-based iMacs, MacBooks, and MacBook Pros) but other security researchers reckon the same tactics would work on more recent models from multiple vendors, not just Apple. This means that any laptop with a built-in camera could be used by a skilled hacker to spy on its users without giving the game away. It's unclear whether or not Apple or other manufacturers are developing any mitigation plans.

Attacks on micro-controllers, particularly on Mac machines, are becoming an increasingly fruitful area of security research. For example, security researcher Charlie Miller demonstrated a hack on systems that control Apple batteries, causing the battery to discharge rapidly and potentially leading to explosive consequences. Other attacks target Apple's keyboard controllers.The spying on people without turning on warning lights issue is far from an academic concern. A tell-tale flickering light was central feature of a notorious case involving school-supplied laptops in Pennsylvania back in 2008.Administrators at Lower Merion High School near Philadelphia reportedly captured 56,000 images of students by using a trojan installed on school-issued laptops. "Students reported seeing a ‘creepy’ green flicker that indicated that the camera was in use. That helped to alert students to the issue, eventually leading to a lawsuit," the Washington Post reported.

More sophisticated hackers have developed the apparent ability to suppress any warning light. This may be a feature of commercial spyware packages, such as FinSpy from FinFisher, which marketing documents covertly leaked through WikiLeaks claim can be “covertly deployed on target systems” to allow “live surveillance through webcam and microphone.”A surveillance program called Ghostnet, reckoned to be a Chinese spying operation against prominent Tibetans including the Dalai Lama, involved “web cameras [which are] silently triggered, and audio inputs surreptitiously activated,” according to a 2009 report into the snooping by the University of Toronto.Marcus Thomas, a former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division, recently told the Washington Post that the FBI has long been able to covertly activate a computer’s camera, without triggering any "recording in progress" warning light.

Privacy conscious users have one ready means to protect themselves from spying. “The safest thing to do is to put a piece of tape on your camera,” Miller told the Washington Post. A video demonstrating how the iSight camera can be turned on without activating the small-green LED light on older Macs can be found here.Review You know, sometimes you’ve got to wonder what enables a design to go into production. I’m looking at the Acer C720 Chromebook and appreciating its dinkiness, the non-reflective 11.6in TFT screen and the fact that it was more than happy to take a bog-standard USB Ethernet adapter and run with it.So far, I'm feeling fairly positive about this Acer-Google computing combo, especially that matt finish display. It makes such a pleasant change to not do battle with overhead lights while adjusting the screen tilt angle, which goes back some way too.The understated, not-especially-shiny ash plastic finish around the charcoal chiclet keys is quite attractive too. Somebody has obviously put a lot of thought into this. So why is the frame around the screen a super-reflective gloss black? You might not see your fingers flit about on the display, but they’re doing a mirror dance in the frame. And it was all going so well…

Such are my first impressions of this otherwise rather stylish Chromebook. That shiny display frame notwithstanding – actually, I’m over that now – Acer has it in mind that kids and cash strapped customers alike, won’t feel like they’re being shortchanged on style, despite the choice of Google's OS shortchanging them in quite a few other areas.Storage anyone? Naturally, Google wants you to use its Drive cloud service and with this Chromebook you can sign up for 100GB free for two years. With a few exceptions, the local storage on Chromebooks has, by design, been pitifully small and the Acer C720 boasts 16GB internal SSD, but for some reason it seems closer to 10GB when you view the Downloads folder in the Files app with the Google Drive reporting around 15GB offline.

The claimed 8.5hr battery life from this configuration is all down to the current Haswell micro-architecture enhancements that have trickled down to this Intel Celeron 2955U dual-core 1.4GHz CPU. I've had it asleep for the best part of a week and found plenty of battery life left. It really does keep going on and on, awakens in a trice and boots up in seconds too.Acer has cut the memory down to 2GB of RAM compared to 4GB offered on a number of competing models including its own C710 from earlier in 2013. You'll find references to a 4GB C720 in the US but it's not on sale in the UK, well not yet. The Celeron chip also features Intel HD Graphics which can spit out full HD to a separate monitor via the HDMI interfacing.I’m trying it out now with a Viewsonic Pro8200 HD projector providing an extended desktop and the 1080p movie hasn’t skipped a beat. I'm on my second movie now to see how long the battery lasts in this scenario. Meanwhile, I type away on Google docs viewed on the Acer C720 Chromebook screen. It did well, managing to perform this two hander for four hours without any screen dimming on its own display.

I do miss a backlit keyboard though and the keys themselves don’t have much in the way of travel and are quite lightly sprung. There’s not too much clatter or flexing and the multitouch trackpad responds well without being too clicky. The only real weirdness is the lack of a Caps Lock key, which has been replaced by a Search function, like we need it?Review The appeal of replacing your desktop is not exactly hard to appreciate. For me, a big screen, decent sized keyboard and a measure of portability, all add up to deliver one thing: convenience. So here I am with Dell’s latest Inspiron 15 7000 series laptop and, curiously enough, it is on my lap, all 2.6kg of it.Dell has quite a range of 7000 series Inspirons. But for you, dear reader, I insisted the 15.6in touchscreen display I'm reviewing was the full-HD version, which means it’s the top of the range 7537 model, the 17” options notwithstanding.

Now there’s another thing I should mention that a desktop replacement should offer over some svelte, lightweight, overpriced carry-anywhere notebook: performance. With a big screen, you get a big base, plenty of room for keys and more leeway inside (to squeeze in a discrete GPU, for example), a bigger battery and a few fans for good measure to keep that best-of-breed mobile CPU under control.Well, that’s the theory in my book, although I’m not so sure Dell sees it that way. That said, this Inspiron 15 does come loaded with 8GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce GT 750M with 2GB of RAM, which isn’t a bad start.However, the 4th Gen dual-core Intel 1.8GHz Core i7-4500U CPU seems a bit more of an Ultrabook offering than what could potentially be squeezed inside. How about a Core i7 quad-core CPU and give the MacBook Pros a bit of a fight?After all, Dell is keen to point out the 7000 series features a forged aluminium body shell, and I wonder where that idea came from? That said, Apple could do with picking up a few ideas from Dell as this model features four USB 3.0 ports and retains Gigabit Ethernet interfacing.

The right-hand USB connector is also a PowerShare port enabling peripheral charging options when the laptop is sleeping or off Granted, there’s no Thunderbolt which does grace some portables beyond the Mac stable and dual display duties are handled by the full-size HDMI port. With only two USB ports on the left edge, the main array of interfacing is on the right – which also features the mic/headphone combo jack socket and an SDXC card slot. There's no optical drive, which helps keep things slim. Without one some might reckon this isn't really a desktop replacement box anyway, but at 379 x 255 x 21mm, it makes a big impression.Dell isn’t asking MacBook Pro money for the Inspiron 15 – this spec is £700 – and thankfully it does have a backlit keyboard, although it lacks ambient light sensing. If you miss having a numeric keypad when migrating to a laptop, you should be satisfied with this layout; even with the numpad it doesn’t feel especially cramped.

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Wilhelm aidge
Wilhelm aidge
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