App Review: Oversight – An extra security and privacy monitoring tool

These days, a lot of people are concerned about privacy. From app permissions, to anti-tracking protections, to even the little sticker covers we can put on our webcams to prevent them from seeing anything until we want them to, these are all little ways we try to make sure no one if watching or listening to us. And its understandable why, you should have a right over your data and who gets to access it. While some of these things can be overblown, it’s also know there are some legitimately bad actors out there, including malware makers. There are known malware tools out there that get onto people’s systems and activate their webcam and microphone without permission. Most Macs with built-in cameras have a little green light to let you know when it’s on and working, even researchers have shown this can be bypassed in some models. While both Mac and iOS have camera and microphone permissions that you can grant or block at will, iOS 14 introduced an indicator that shows you when you your microphone and camera is currently or recently been used, and what app was using it. You can actually replicate this feature using a free utility called Oversight.

Oversight’s function is to inform you when the camera or microphone in your Mac have been activated by a process and what app activated it (if possible). With notifications privileges enables, any time an app starts using the webcam or mic, a notification will pop up in the top right corner letting you know. Not only that, but Oversight will even let you allow or block whatever activated the device in question. The allowance doesn’t have to be permanent either; should you choose to allow an app, you have the option to either allow it this time but ask again the next time by hitting “Just Once” or to grant the app continual access by hitting “Yes, Always”. You can always go back and adjust the permission for any of the apps by going into Oversight’s preferences. Oversight will also notify you when the camera or mic go inactive. This can be helpful if you want the extra notice and comfort, but those inactive notifications can get annoying, so you can disable those in settings.

Because of the way the app connects to the daemon, and because it’s not running at the same level as the OS’s built in permissions, Oversight sometimes can’t tell what app is running. In that case it will still notify you that the camera or mic went active (and inactive), though you won’t be able to explicitly deny or allow the process.

In case you’re concerned about an app like this, it comes from a guy named Patrick Wardle. He is a well known name in the Mac and Security communities. He previously was an NSA hacker, a security researcher at Jamf (a well known Mac enterprise management suite), and numerous other digital security firms. His list of credentials, conferences, and jobs are well known. While the app isn’t open source, the name behind it is well known enough to be trustworthy.

Oversight is a free app available on Patrick Wardle’s site, Objective-See.com and more specifically at https://objective-see.com/products/oversight.html

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