isight

Hack and Disable The iSight Camera

This article will walk you through the steps of capturing images from an iSight camera remotely, as well as disabling it.

It’s a question that a great many people are asking, and for a good reason: can people control my iSight camera remotely? It’s a scary answer:

Yes.

You can log into another Mac with a built-in iSight camera and take pictures remotely. But here’s the good news: you can also disable the iSight camera on the software end, rather than simply taping it up. First, let’s start with capturing pictures remotely, then move on to disabling the camera.

Requirements

    • An SSH Client (Terminal])
    • A Target Mac

Take Pictures Via SSH

To get started capturing images remotely, you’ll need to download a utility called iSightCapture and install it.

Download iSightCapture from Applausible.

Installation is simple. Open up the downloaded .dmg file, and drag the isightcapture file into a folder on your hard drive that you can access via Terminal. Once that’s in place, fire up Terminal.

To use iSightCapture, you would then log into the machine using SSH via following code (if you’re running this on your own machine, you’re all set!):

ssh user@computer

Replace user with the username you are logging in as, and computer with the computer name or IP address.

You’ll then be prompted for a password. Enter the password and hit return (Terminal will make it appear as if you are not typing anything when you’re entering the password, but trust me, you are), and you’ll be logged in.

To take pictures, the commands are very basic. First, you need to navigate via the cd command into the directory that you installed iSightCapture. For example, you have the file stored on your desktop, you would enter (replacing YourName with your username):

cd /Users/YourName/Desktop

./isightcapture image.jpg

Will output a 640×480 image in JPEG format.

./isightcapture -w 320 -h 240 -t png image.png

Will output a scaled 320×240 image in PNG format

Advanced Options

Thankfully, if you’re looking to take certain sized pictures in a certain format, you’re in luck! iSightCapture uses a formula, that includes variables that you can edit in the command. The formula for all iSightCapture commands goes as such:

isightcapture [-v] [-d] [-n frame-no] [-w width] [-h height] [-t jpg|png|tiff|bmp] output-filename

The key to each of these variable is listed below:

-v output version information and exit

-d enable debugging messages. Off by default

-n capture nth-frame

-w output file pixel width. Defaults to 640 pixels.

-h output file pixel height. Defaults to 480 pixels.

-t output format – one of jpg, png, tiff or bmp. Defaults to JPEG.

Disable iSight

Are you constantly seeing the green light on? Just paranoid? Use these handy terminal commands to disable the iSight camera (be sure to replace YourName with your username!):

sudo mv /System/Library/QuickTime/QuickTimeUSBVDCDigitizer.component \ /Users/YourName/Desktop

and

sudo mv /System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/CoreMediaIOServicesPrivate.framework/ Versions/A/Resources/VDC.plugin /Users/YourName/Desktop

What you have just done is move two drivers for the iSight camera out of their system folders and onto your Desktop. If you wish to reverse this move, you simply change the direction (assuming you haven’t moved the files since then):

sudo mv/Users/YourName/Desktop/QuickTimeUSBVDCDigitizer.component \ /System/Library/QuickTime/

and

sudo mv /Users/YourName/Desktop/VDC.plugin /System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/CoreMediaIOServicesPrivate.framework/Versions/A/Resources/

If you want to make the iSight stay disabled forever, simply dump the files on your Desktop into the Trash and empty it.

The contents of this guide are for educational use only. For more information, see our Disclaimer.

46 Comments

  1. Robert

    03.18.2011

    Reply

    Is it possible to set the captured picture as background on the other computer? If so, what’s the command?

    • Jeff Browning

      03.20.2011

      Sure thing! If you save the captured picture on the desktop as “Picture 1.png”, for instance, you can copy and paste the following command into Terminal (after you’ve SSH’d into their computer):

      osascript << EOF
      tell application "Finder"
      set desktop picture to file "Picture 1.png" of desktop
      end tell
      EOF

      That will set the captured picture as their desktop background.

  2. Zac

    04.29.2011

    Reply

    I typed in ./isightcapture image.jpg and this came up:

    FATAL: setting data channel failed – cam busy/not connected ?

    how would I connect the cam?

    • Jeff Browning

      04.29.2011

      Is it connected and hooked up to your computer?

    • Mark

      06.30.2011

      I am having the same problem, it works when I am not doing it over ssh but when I do connect to it I get

      FATAL: setting data channel failed – cam busy/not connected ?

    • Jeff Browning

      06.30.2011

      Are you connecting via ssh through a user account? Maybe give it a shot through the root account and see if that makes a difference.

    • Zac

      03.21.2012

      problem solved. but i have a question, how can i send the pics to a different dir?

    • Zac

      03.21.2012

      disregard the beginning of my last comment.

  3. alphie

    04.30.2011

    Reply

    Would logging in via SSH trigger a sort of warning on the other computer?
    like a pop-up or something.

    **p.s. can you also log in as a guest if the other computer only has one user?
    thanks

    • Jeff Browning

      05.03.2011

      I don’t think that the guest account has any sort of SSH privileges, but I could be mistaken, and no — there is no sort of popup or any visual indicator. The only way that someone would be able to see that someone logged in via SSH is if they checked their logs.

  4. Joel

    05.07.2011

    Reply

    This seems like a very cool utility. However, I can not get it to work on my macbook pro running OSX Snow Leopard. Not sure if I am entering the right commands into Terminal. Any advice? I am new to computers so I have no idea what I am doing.

    • Jeff Browning

      05.07.2011

      Joel – What’s not working about it?

    • Ewan Jones

      03.31.2012

      Same problem, during step 1 it says “connection refused”

  5. Joel

    05.07.2011

    Reply

    Jeff, thanks for responding so quickly. I practiced first using basic bash commands – made my computer say all kinds of mean things to me out loud – just to make sure I was on the right track.
    When I attempt to use the isightcapture on my own computer by typing:

    cd /Users/YourName/Desktop./isightcapture image.jpg

    I repeatedly get the “No such file or directory” message. the program is on my desktop and I am the administrator. I am not sure how to troubleshoot.

    Thanks for this site, I am learning a tremendous amount, wish I had found it a long time ago.

    • Jeff Browning

      05.07.2011

      Thanks for the feedback Joel! If you’re enjoying the site, I hope you’ll subscribe to our newsletter (sign-up in the sidebar) and join our forum to learn even more! (http://www.hackmac.org/forum/)

      I think the problem is that you’re trying to run two commands as one line. The following is one command:
      cd /Users/YourName/Desktop
      and then after you run that, you would run this command separately:
      ./isightcapture image.jpg

      Hope that helps!

    • Joel

      05.08.2011

      Jeff, it worked like a charm on my computer! If I want to capture images remotely will I need to download isightcapture on the target computer or just have it on my own?
      I have the e-book and I am signed up for the newsletter. I am looking forward to learning more. Thanks!

    • Jeff Browning

      05.23.2011

      Great to hear! Sorry for the late reply; this one must have slipped by me.

      You’ll need to have isightcapture on the target computer, so you can copy it over beforehand through the command line or by a flashdrive or something else.

  6. Javier

    05.11.2011

    Reply

    I found an easier solution. just tape or cover the darn thing. it works for me

  7. Jacob

    05.21.2011

    Reply

    How can i make it download something??

    • Jeff Browning

      05.23.2011

      Jacob – Can you define “it”? I’m not entirely sure what you would be downloading, unless you mean pictures from another machine, in which case you could do it via wget and SSH or by FTP/File Sharing.

  8. joemmilner

    06.05.2011

    Reply

    I cannot download iSightCapture. Suggestions or alternative sources?

  9. Sam

    06.21.2011

    Reply

    I am not able to download the iSight Capture from that web site. Is there another website that I can download it from?
    Thanks

  10. lele

    07.05.2011

    Reply

    after tipping the ssh command (first my login name then @ then ip of targeted mac )
    terminal ansers
    “connect to host 192.168.1.5 port 22: Connection refused”.
    A video woud help to !!!
    thanks in advances .

    • Jeff Browning

      07.05.2011

      Is SSH enabled in the other computer’s “Sharing” pane in System Preferences?

  11. school tech

    10.07.2011

    Reply

    Hey Jeff. not sure the dmg you’re linking is working. anyway you can update it? id like to test this out on a remote machine. thanks.

  12. Matt

    11.14.2011

    Reply

    Jeff, Is there a way to disable the LED light next to the iSight Camera? I want to be able to have the camera on without that light being on. Thanks..

  13. Jack

    12.09.2011

    Reply

    Hey Jeff I’m using Mac OS X Lion running 10.7.2 will these same commands work for me because whenever i try and run them is just says no such file or directory?

  14. Aidan

    01.10.2012

    Reply

    i ssh to the other computer but then i can’t do anything else because i cant access the isightcapture files on my computer. i think this may have something to do with the error message i get in the beginning:

    Could not create directory ‘/Users/ap/.ssh’.
    The authenticity of host ‘acounts-macbook.home (192.168.1.5)’ can’t be established.
    RSA key fingerprint is 2f:96:73:20:9d:e5:e0:7b:80:f7:81:5a:a7:76:8c:2a.
    Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)?

    how can i create this directory? or how do i work around this… im not very savy with this stuff so if you could dumbify it as much as possible it would be appreciated.

  15. Aiden

    01.25.2012

    Reply

    I tried doing this though I don’t know the password to the other computer. Is there a way to find that password. I also tried to do this through telnet though for some reason every time i tried this, i got a message saying : telnet: connect to address ##.###.##.### : Connection refused
    telnet: Unable to connect to remote host

  16. Alex

    01.26.2012

    Reply

    I removed the plugins from their folders for a time to disable my iSight, and I recently replaced them in the correct places. Despite this, my iSight still does not work with most applications (it does work with one or two third party applications) including Photo Booth and iMovie. Do you have any suggestions?

  17. cJames

    02.11.2012

    Reply

    Hi,

    I never think twice about doing things…ANWAY!!

    Umm, i unzipped the files and came up with iSightCapture (not as a dmg, but as an exec), and isightcapture.rtf

    I opened the exec file, and it installed through terminal….Where did this install!?!?

    Thanks..

  18. Morgan

    04.03.2012

    Reply

    Hi Jeff. I have been trying to disable the camera on my MacBook Pro (Late 2011 model) on 10.7.3 and unfortunately I can’t get the command to work.

    The path “/System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/CoreMediaIOServicesPrivate.framework/ Versions/A/Resources/” doesn’t work. So I did a search for the ‘VDC.plugin’ file and found it, but when I move or rename it, the webcam still works. Do you know if your method still works on my computer? Thanks a lot.

  19. Samuel

    04.05.2012

    Reply

    when i type in the command it sais permisson denied and i am admin soo how do i fix this??

  20. Bleh

    04.09.2012

    Reply

    If I am using a mac, can I do the “SSH” to a targeted PC computer?

  21. Stephen

    05.09.2012

    Reply

    Hey Jeff works great thanks one question is there a way to get iSightcapture on the targets computer with out them knowing ??

  22. nick

    05.10.2012

    Reply

    hi jeff,

    trying to recover a stolen laptop using this. to log into terminal i use the SSH with the user name and IP of stolen computer, i then get “trying …. 82.170.221.163″ Any help?

  23. Cameron

    06.03.2012

    Reply

    Is there a way to record video from iSight instead of picture?

    If so, my family is going to have to deal with a trolling computer that can see them while I command it from my bedroom.

  24. Dylan

    08.20.2012

    Reply

    whenever I run the command to connect to the host computer I get an error saying:
    ssh: connect to host xxx.xx.xxx.xxx port 22: Connection refused

    Any ideas on what to do?
    Thanks in advanced, help is greatly appreciated.

  25. julius

    09.14.2012

    Reply

    Hi, how do you find the name of the root account

  26. Sean

    10.02.2012

    Reply

    Jeff I am having a problem getting it to work. I am able to do it on the device but not remotely. I can log in via ssh, but after i have the connection I am not able to have the program work. Am i supposed to install on the remote computer. If I capture from the remote computer will it pop up on the remote computer. Finally how do I get it to be able to use the program on the remote computer because when I am in terminal in ssh mode I’m connect to the other computer there fore when I go through the file path it is not on the other computer where I am trying to take the image.

    Thanks

  27. Sean

    10.02.2012

    Reply

    I got it to work to a certain extent i am getting FATAL: setting data channel failed – cam busy/not connected ?
    how would I connect the cam?

  28. gcisnero

    10.22.2012

    Reply

    Thanks for the article – is there a way to tell if this program has been installed on my computer – knowing that the perpetrator was possibly sneaky about it’s destination on the HD?

  29. Fredd

    02.11.2013

    Reply

    Could you please make some sort of extremely easy step-by-step guide with pictures? I don’t know what to do after downloading the utility, the commands are being put in where and how? If I don’t know the other computers IP address, then what to do? I’m awful when it comes to computers, I know…

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