Drop the Mike!

10 January 2020

I received a Bitdefender notification today that two game apps had accessed my microphone:

A picture from the malware program.

While the apps themselves weren’t likely up to no good, I was annoyed by a few things. I had not given express permission for these apps to access my microphone, the apps had not even notified me they were accessing the microphone, they didn’t need to access the microphone as I was merely logging on, or off in Steam’s case and the programs offered no way to shut off the permissions. There was a way to mute the microphone, but I had no way of knowing if a program; say a free game would be able to turn the mike back on. It’s not like I can just tape over the microphone. I’m also using a laptop so I can’t remove it either. Bitdefender offers a way to prevent apps accessing the camera but no way to prevent access to the microphone. This has to be done in the Windows 10 settings:

Start button > Settings > Privacy > Microphone > Allow Desktop Apps to Access Microphone > No/Yes

Note the desktop app settings are below the Windows app settings.

1. Start button > Settings

A picture from the malware program.

2. Privacy

A picture from the malware program.

3. Microphone

A picture from the malware program.

4. Desktop Apps

A picture from the malware program.

There is an important privacy notice that can be accessed from the privacy tab settings or from this link. In it Microsoft states that desktop apps may not ask for permission to access data (any data) on your computer. It also states that some apps may not be affected by turning off the permission grants in the settings, because app drivers interact directly with the computer. I can confirm that in the instances I found in Steam and Origin that the microphone access will be blocked.

In other cases it may be prescient to buy a ‘microphone blocker’. It’s simply a plug that goes into the microphone socket. The computer registers the presence of an external device and turns off the computer’s internal device. They may not prevent hackers from communicating with internal devices directly though. They are also expensive for what they are starting at £7, so it may be better to cut one off an old pair of headphones.

Note also settings for the microphone in your browser's settings.

Image Credits

Homepage photo by Soonios Pro from Pexels.