You’re sitting in front of your computer, minding your own business, when you suddenly notice the webcam light is on. Something is looking at you — maybe even recording or broadcasting online. But what? You don’t have Skype running, and you close the browser just to make sure. The light won’t go off! What’s using that webcam?
Here’s how to tell.
First Things First: Use A Sticker
Let’s start with a low-tech solution. If your camera is on and you have no idea why, it is possible someone’s watching you right now. So first, just cover the camera with a reusable sticker or a piece of cardboard. It may not be pretty, but it works.
You can get a pack of purpose-built stickers for covering your webcam on Amazon, which you can peel and reapply again and again. Don’t wait for those stickers, though – for now, just cover your webcam with anything you have to hand, and proceed.
Download & Run Process Explorer
To figure out what’s using your webcam, we will need a free Windows utility called Process Explorer. It was developed by Microsoft and is also part of their Sysinternals Suite, a collection of tools for IT Professionals.
You can download Process Explorer and install it, or you can run the application straight from the server – this will grab just the EXE file directly from Microsoft’s Sysinternals site, and is the quickest way to start Process Explorer.
Find The Camera’s Object Name
Now we need to find what your camera is called internally by your computer. Start Device Manager (Windows 7: search in Start menu; Windows 8.1: search in Charms bar), and find the webcam in the list:
Double-click the webcam, and go to the Details tab.
Open the Property drop-down and click Physical device object name, then right-click and copy its value:
Find The Process Using The Camera &Kill It
Now go to the Process Explorer window (or run Process Explorer if it isn’t open), and hit Ctrl+F. Paste in the physical device object name, and hit Enter. You should get something like this:
In the screenshot above, it’s Skype, which means you can just exit Skype and there’s no reason to worry. But if it’s something nefarious, you’ll have to kill the process. Right-click the process in Process Explorer and click Kill Process.
You should see the camera LED blink out — there, now nobody’s watching you.
Uninstall The Offending App & Scan Your Computer
If this was an app you recognize and it really did start on its own, you might want to uninstall it. You can use the program removal feature built into Windows, or use the excellent Absolute Uninstaller, previously-reviewed Advanced Uninstaller Pro, or one of these three great uninstallers.
Finally, it is always a good idea to scan your computer for viruses and have a solid virus protection product installed. You can see our current recommendations in the Best Windows Software page.