My privacy feels invaded by the "active" light on my webcam turning on when I boot Ubuntu, and again when I login. It stays on for 3-4 seconds, then turns back off.

It's a Creative HD 1080p webcam that sits on top of the monitor, plugged in via USB.

  • 8
    Why don't you just unplug your webcam when it is not in use if you are worried that somebody is using it to spy on you? Or put some tape over the lens or something? – user364819 Feb 22 '15 at 19:00
  • 8
    The thing really to be more worried about is if someone is spying on you using your built-in microphone (if you have one) because it does not have a little green light to tell you when it is on, thus you will never know if you are being listened to or not. – user364819 Feb 22 '15 at 19:07
  • 1
    Can you please add some details about your system, What version of Ubuntu is it, who installed the system and how old is the install. – 0x7c0 Feb 22 '15 at 19:49
  • 4
    How can you be sure that the light on the webcam indicates that it is sending the video stream somewhere? In my experience, it might just mean that the webcam is being initialized. You should check with the tech specs of the camera to see what the light may or may not indicate before assuming the worst case. – user1306322 Feb 22 '15 at 21:43
  • 2
    @Rinzwind the attacker would need access to the machine to do that, and if he has access then he can very well bring his own ffmpeg binary along. Anyway I proved my point, and I'm just saying that if my webcam ever lights up like that I'd suspect a compromise and won't be satisfied until I find the process that's activating the cam. Saying "it's normal" without any proof is too big of a risk. By proof I mean whether that cam has the same behavior on other machines. I'm not going to waste my time arguing, bye and have a nice day. – user249743 Feb 23 '15 at 10:08

What is watching me?

Nobody. Without any proof (I did google for it a little bit): I seriously doubt that a webcam can transmit a stream to the outside world before the desktop is active. It would be very complicated to make software to do that and it would require you to install it yourself.

And why does this happen?

It is the device being detected by the system. First when the USB system is started the camera gets powered up it will tell you by flashing the light. And the second time will be due to the program that is started during boot to use that webcam (that will probably be the program "cheese" or "skype") that checks if it can find a camera. That again triggers the light to flash.

If you want to get rid of the second one: disable the program to start at boot time and start it manually when you want to use the webcam. If it is indeed during login check "dash", "startup applications" and check for programs that can use webcams; if there is one you could disable it there.

If you want to get rid of the first one you probably need to unplug it before booting (that will also get rid of the second time). As soon as you plug it in it will flash when the webcam gets detected by the system.

Some independent topics related to this (and not per se Linux):

Use common sense. if it always flashes during boot and always at those two specific moments with every boot I would expect this to be normal behaviour of that webcam.

When you need to worry about it flashing is when it flashes during normal operation; When you are using your computer and not using the webcam. If it flashes then you should investigate this.

  • I have a Logitech usb web cam, at no point during boot,login, or connecting device does it light up, only when the camera is actively capturing does it light up. – 0x7c0 Feb 22 '15 at 19:48
  • Have you tested? – 0x7c0 Feb 22 '15 at 19:50
  • 1
    @Shutupsquare it could be worse; I once had one from MS that did not stop blinking -ever-. – Rinzwind Feb 22 '15 at 19:55
  • 2
    I LIKE that it blinks when probed. Say you had some super-advanced thing that skipped the whole v4l2 layer and just tried to grab the webcam memory directly. I'ld like it to blink... I wouldn't run about whining about it. – RobotHumans Feb 22 '15 at 19:56
  • 1
    @AndréDaniel "I've never seen a webcam light up" I have. Nath has. Several ppl in Ubuntu Chat have. I provided 2 links that state it happens. Your just have not seen enough webcams. – Rinzwind Feb 23 '15 at 8:06

I can confirm this happens on a clean install of Ubuntu and MINT. It doesn't matter which desktop you are using. Don't worry about it.

P.s I have a logitech webcam too. Nothing to do with branding here.

  • Thanks for confirming that the behavior occurs with a clean install. – Charney Kaye Feb 23 '15 at 15:40

Take a look in /dev/ folder, you will find a file which is /dev/video0. This is your webcam. In order to appear there, in the list of all devices, udev will need to initialize it somehow. That's why it blinks.. Then it's basically just hanging around there in the wait state until cheese or some other program needs to access it, which is when the light will become constantly on.

Same occurs every time I plug mine in - it blinks once. Why does it do on start up and shutdown ? Because the script for the service udev (which is in /etc/init.d/udev, by the way) runs on shutdown and startup, to bring devices up and down.

  • What about my weird camera where the light remains on until the first usage, and only when that first usage actually finishes it turns off? How can I work around that, besides blacklisting uvcvideo? – Paul Stelian Oct 7 '18 at 10:33
  • 1
    @PaulStelian Well, you could "simulate" first usage - there's way to script taking a snapshot with webcam, so you could have a script that waits for webcam to appear in device list, take snapshot, and dispose of it. But that's just a workaround. I'd recommend asking a proper question on the site and maybe someone can help troubleshooting it. – Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy Oct 7 '18 at 10:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.