How to Disable the Built-in iSight Camera on a Mac
Most new consumer Macs come with a built-in iSight / FaceTime camera which can be used for all sorts of fun, ranging from live video chatting in FaceTime, Skype, and iChat, to horsing around in Photo Booth, to using third party apps like Gawker to capture time lapse photography of whatever is going on. That hardware camera is located at the top of the screen as the little black dot on the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and iMac.
Despite the many fun and harmless uses of the hardware Camera, there are some security concerns with having a built-in camera particularly in academic and institutional settings, and because of this some System Administrators have taped covers over the iSight and even removed them from the machines entirely. Thankfully, there’s a much easier way to disable the built-in iSight camera, all you have to do is move a file.
Disabling the Built-in Hardware iSight / FaceTime Camera on any Mac
This completely disables the Mac camera, preventing all usage of the built-in hardware camera on any Mac in all versions of OS X. Keep in mind that no apps will be able to use the hardware camera at all once this is complete, at least until the process has been reversed.
- First, we will create a relatively hidden backup folder for the file. If you don’t want the folder hidden from the GUI, just remove the . in front of the directory name. Launch the Terminal and type the following command:
- Next, we will move the QuickTime component that allows the iSight to be accessed into the backup directory we just created. Type the following command:
sudo mv /System/Library/QuickTime/QuickTimeUSBVDCDIgitizer.component /System/Library/QuickTime/.iSightBackup/
(In case it’s not clear, there is a space between the two directory paths)
- Reboot the Mac (a reboot is required to unload the component)
- That’s pretty much it, if you want to enable the iSight again, simply move the QuickTimeUSBVDCDIgitizer.component file back into the main QuickTime directory at /System/Library/QuickTime/
Now any program that attempts to access the iSight will be unable to, instead the user will get the familiar message that the iSight hardware is already in use by another program, or the error message saying the camera is not connected and can’t be found:
If you’d rather avoid the command line, you can follow the same rough instructions above but using Command-Shift-G in the Finder to access the ‘Go’ command. The only downside to doing it through the Finder is that you can not create an ‘invisible’ directory to place the file in, so you’ll have to put the component elsewhere.
This works in all versions of OS X, from modern releases like OS X Yosemite, OS X Mavericks, to much older versions of Mac OS X software. The camera component has stayed the same, and simply moving it from the folder is sufficient to prevent it from working completely.
Option 2: Use Tape to Cover the Camera
Of course, you could always manually intervene with the hardware and disconnect or detach the actual camera too, or, as you’ll often see at some security related groups and InfoSec conferences, place some tape over the webcam. The tape strategy obviously won’t disable the camera but it at least prevents an image from being seen or captured, which is often the desired result of many users. The tape strategy is so ubiquitous with individuals in security fields that there must be something to it… and it’s easy!
Remember, the camera on MacBook laptops and iMacs is basically front and center at the top of the display, look carefully and you’ll be able to locate it.
If tape isn’t an option, and the above intervention method is too complicated, you can always use a third party script to do this for you, though it’s untested and it’s up to you whether or not you want to try it: TechSlaves iSight Disabler Script. Apparently, that works by changing permissions of the components.
This tip is an elaboration on one found at Mac OS X Hints, which tells you to delete the QuickTimeUSBVDCDIgitizer.component file. Instead of deleting it, we’d rather relocate it elsewhere so you can easily enable the iSight / FaceTime again in the future if you want to. Ultimately, it’s up to you.