I got a strange email where it noted I was wearing a white shirt. Very weird. How did they know? Now I’m wondering if I’ve been hacked and am wondering if there’s a way to see a list of all programs on my PC that have access to my webcam camera?
There’s an easy way to ascertain which programs on your PC have access to your microphone and webcam, but before I show you that, let’s talk about that email for a moment. You said “they noted I was wearing a white shirt”, but I suggest it was just really good luck, an attempt to make a likely guess to disconcert you. After all, white is the most common car color, and I bet it’s the most common – or one of the most common – colors for clothes, along with blue and browns for men and pastels for women (in the aggregate, of course). If I say “why are you wearing black shoes” when you’re in the office, there’s no great magic or psychic ability, it’s just probability.
This is known as “social engineering”, basically tricking you to establish trust. The best defense against all of these scams is to be skeptical, really skeptical, about anything that seems out of the ordinary. A friend who never travels suddenly emails you from the other side of the world, asking you for money to help bail them out of prison? A friend of a friend asks for some help after they “lost their job”? A company kindly offers to “remove the malware from your PC” that you didn’t know you even had? In all cases, investigate, verify and have them prove the story is legit.
But let’s get back to the basic question of How can you identify which programs on your PC can access your camera? That’s all done in Windows Preferences…
WHAT PROGRAMS CAN ACCESS YOUR PC WEBCAM?
The easiest way to get to the right spot is to use the search feature of the Taskbar and search for “camera privacy”:
As shown, you want to choose Camera Privacy Settings. The subsequent window has quite a bit of information, but you need to scroll and scroll to find it.
To start, it’ll show this:
I don’t know why they don’t make it more obvious, but the key in all of the above is the word “on”. If you want to block webcam camera access to all programs, click “Change” and disable it.
Probably not what you want to do, however, so scroll down in that window a bit…
As you can see, access is split across a couple of categories. Here, at least, the On/Off switch is a lot more overt.
But… keep scrolling… and, finally, you’ll get the list:
Generally speaking, the apps should make sense, programs like the Camera app, web conferencing programs, the Photos program, etc. But some don’t. Why does Feedback Hub need access to your camera? Or the HP Smart program? Easy enough, click on the toggle and that access is instantly revoked:
But you’re not done yet, because the first list is only apps from the Microsoft App Store.
Scroll down further and there’s yet another list of programs you’ve downloaded directly, like Microsoft Edge and Zoom:
Again, if you use Zoom, it’s logical for it to have access to your camera, but Edge? Hmm… The good news is that if you revoke access permission, the program can always prompt you to grant access later, as needed, so it’s not going to break anything.
WHAT ABOUT PC APPS THAT CAN ACCESS YOUR MICROPHONE?
Turns out that the exact same process applies to programs, apps and utilities that have access to your PC microphone (often part of your webcam, but treated as a separate device). Search for “microphone privacy” and you’ll find the exact same settings, just for audio, not video:
Does Camera need access? Yes, if you want to record video with sound. Cortana? Obviously, it’s the voice interface. But Feedback Hub? Uhh, probably not.
As with the camera access, don’t forget to scroll down…
A curious list on mine, for sure, but I can always disable the entire list by switching “desktop apps” to Off.
Between the two, however, you should definitely have full control over what programs can access your hardware. That plus a healthy dose of skepticism will help you have a better day!
Pro Tip: I’ve been writing about Microsoft Windows long enough that Microsoft made me a Windows Insider VIP! Please do check out my extensive Windows help library while you’re here!