Any self-respecting Paranoiac long ago taped over the webcam on their laptop—and for good measure, the cameras on their smartphone too. But for those truly concerned that their computers have been hacked and turned into spy tools, the microphones on those devices represent just as much of a security threat as the cameras. They would allow a hacked gadget to bug an entire room.
The good news for the targets of highly sophisticated cyberspies? There’s a practical fix for that audio espionage problem. The bad news: It requires some surgery.
No software setting can turn off a microphone such that a skilled hacker who controls your device can’t turn it back on. Instead, you can simply remove them, and then plug in an external microphone only when you truly need it.
“There’s no reason why these devices need those sensors to function,” says Kyle Wiens, the founder of device research and repair company iFixit. “And taking them apart to break the microphone isn’t any harder than fixing it.”
In fact, physically disconnecting a MacBook’s microphone is a simple, five-minute job that anyone can do with little more than a couple of cheap tools, Wiens says. Disabling an iPhone’s mics presents a greater challenge, but it's not impossible. A skilled iPhone repair technician can do it in less than 30 minutes for less than $100, or you can even do it yourself if you’re brave enough to dig into the guts of your phone.
Given the uniformity and popularity of Apple products—and the broadly recognized superiority of the iPhone’s security compared to Android’s—WIRED asked hardware specialists for advice specifically about how to deafen the mics in MacBooks and iPhones. Here’s what we found.
The Mic Jack Stub Trick
Before cracking open any computer, it's worth considering a simpler solution: Insert a small stub device into your headphone and microphone jack that tricks the computer into thinking that a mic is already plugged in. In his book, The Art of Invisibility, famed hacker Kevin Mitnick describes how to create a "dummy mic plug" by cutting off the plug from an old pair of mic-enabled headphones. Insert that into the jack and "your computer will think there's a microphone there when there isn't," Mitnick writes. Be careful, he notes, not to let the two wires coming out of the end of your stub touch; you could short-circuit your microphone port and damage your computer.
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