Apple webcam spyware artist investigated by Secret Service

Filed Under: Apple, Law & order, Malware, Privacy

iMac webcamThe US Secret Service has confiscated computer equipment from a Brooklyn artist who installed unauthorised software on computers at two New York Apple stores.

25-year-old Kyle McDonald installed software onto MacBooks and iMacs, that automatically took photographs every minute of Apple customers as they stared at the computers they used in the Apple stores.

These surreptitiously-taken photographs were then posted on a Tumblr blog and made into a video.

McDonald says that he asked permission from staff to take pictures inside the store, but it's unclear whether he had permission to install onto the computers what sounds suspiciously like spyware. And there are obvious privacy questions that might be raised too.

McDonald did what everyone does when the Secret Service comes knocking on your day these days. He posted a message on Twitter:

In the raid, McDonald's two computers and flash drives were confiscated.

McDonald, who has not been arrested, says that the warrant he was served with claims that he violated 18 US Code section 1030 (which deals with unauthorised access to computers), and that he has asked the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) for assistance.

Of course, there is no suggestion that the software that McDonald installed was anything like as serious as the spyware more commonly encountered on computers that logs keypresses, steals passwords and so forth.

But you can well imagine that members of the public wouldn't be too chuffed to find that they are featuring in an artwork. And if the computers in Apple's stores were able to have McDonald's software installed upon them it would surely be just as easy to install something more malicious.

Perhaps that's something to bear in mind next time you are in an Apple store and think you'll use the public computers to access your email or Facebook account.

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8 Responses to Apple webcam spyware artist investigated by Secret Service

  1. artfrankmiami · 1107 days ago

    As an artist, you can't do something like this in this day and age where people are identifiable, unless you wait 5-10 years. You can take pictures of anyone on a street outside in public, but in this case, he should have put a message card next to the laptop. I'm sure the store wouldn't have knowingly let him do this. he's a jerk to think otherwise--and I understand what he's doing, but he needed to do it another way.

  2. JEB · 1107 days ago

    @artfrankmiami -- I agree.

    I personally would have been very upset to find my image on that blog with out my permission. If there was a sign in the store and the staff told me what was going on then I would have a choice and probably allow it but the way he did it no.

    I'm sure there are some people that would actively take McDonald to court over this as an invasion of privacy if their picture was taken.

  3. DeviantKiller · 1107 days ago

    I would have titled the art piece "Computer illiterate people"
    Just a whole load of people thinking they are cool playing with macs.
    To be honest, if he had time to install software on a computer (with or without permission) and none of the staff did come and ask him if he needed assistance, it was a pretty useless store.

  4. Dave B · 1107 days ago

    Shame on the Apple store for having no controls in place to disallow installation of any software by an unauthorized user. Try to install something on a demo PC. It's not happening.

  5. debi · 1107 days ago

    this dude needs some jail time !

  6. Amanda · 1107 days ago

    There is nothing illegal about taking pictures of someone in public.
    He said the store gave him permission to take pictures in the store. Now, that's not the same as installing a program on the computers, so that's an issue.

  7. Richard · 1107 days ago

    Am I missing something? I thought the US Secret Service was tasked with investigating counterfeiting and protecting current and former national leaders and their families.

    The Patriot act extended their remit to include attacks on financial and critical infrastructures in the United States, but this case doesn't seem to fall under that classification.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Secret...

    So why are they involved in a simple hacking case? Isn't this more the FBIs territory?

  8. N Elizabeth Johansen · 964 days ago

    if he's making any money off this art, then the models need to be paid. ;)

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.