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Windows Hello uses your webcam even if you disabled your camera

Ms. Smith | Aug. 25, 2015
The latest Windows 10 privacy freak out involves Windows Hello accessing your webcam even if you disabled your webcam in privacy settings.

Microsoft's Windows 10 Windows Hello uses webcam when disabled
Credit: Wikimedia (CC)

The newest Windows 10 privacy freak out involves Windows Hello which is supposed to be a convenient security feature turned on or off by selecting Settings > Accounts > Sign-in options.  Windows Hello replaces traditional passwords with biometric recognition, allowing users to unlock their PC with a swipe or glance. You’ve likely seen Microsoft’s 30 second Windows 10 commercial which shows a toddler who “won’t have to obsess over security” as she will be able to unlock Windows 10 with a smile.

You might think that people who setup Windows Hello to work with facial recognition surely realize their webcam must be used. Yet Softpedia noted that even if you disable your webcam completely for Windows 10 apps, Windows Hello will still use it for the biometric authentication.

While trying to determine how accurate Windows Hello is, The Australian’s Chris Griffith conducted a test using six pairs of identical twins. Windows Hello wasn’t fooled and kept each twin from logging in as their identical sibling.

Folks who do not realize that their webcam setting can be turned off, yet still be used by Windows Hello, should check out Microsoft’s Windows 10 camera and privacy FAQ. It states: “If you choose to turn on Windows Hello, it will use your camera to sign you in even if your camera setting is turned off. If Windows Hello is turned off, it can’t access your camera.”

Windows 10 apps and services may ask for access to “three types of cameras” – color cameras, infrared cameras and depth cameras, according to Microsoft. So how you know if your webcam is on? Microsoft wrote: “If your system comes with a camera light, the light will turn on when the camera is in use. If your system doesn’t have a camera light, a notification will appear letting you know when the camera turns on or off.” (Please note that if your machine has been infected with a RAT, the light won't come on at all.)

Microsoft mentioned that there are “Classic Windows” apps which won’t appear under “Choose apps that can use your camera.” Softpedia credited Reddit user dioxol-5-yl for pointing out that even if you turned off the webcam in Windows 10 privacy options, then there are Classic apps not listed that can still access your cam.

Microsoft defined Classic Windows apps as those which “use Windows Platform components such as .NET, COM, Win32, and others. You’d usually install one by downloading it from the Internet or with some type of media (such as a CD, DVD, or USB storage device). You’d launch one using an .EXE or .DLL file. They're typically desktop apps (which run on your device) rather than web-based apps (which run in the cloud). You can also find Classic Windows applications in the Windows Store.”


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