Microsoft reveals why new Surface devices don’t come with a physical webcam cover

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced the Surface Book 3 and Surface Go 2. Both new devices come with refreshed specs and include Windows Hello which allows for a more secure login experience.

While Windows Hello is secure, it also requires a compatible webcam and with hackers hijacking webcams, some manufacturers have started including a physical webcam cover that slides over the camera. This has prompted many to question Microsoft’s decision to not include a camera cover on the new Surface devices. It’s not clear why Microsoft decided not to include a physical shutter for added peace of mind, but Stevie Bathiche, an Applied Sciences Group lead at Microsoft, revealed to PCWorld that Surface devices already have a feature to protect users. He said that the camera LED on Surface devices is separate and not controlled by software so if it is on, it means that the webcam is in use. This makes it almost impossible for bad actors to hack into the software and disable the camera LED.

The light is not software-controlled. The light is controlled by the camera itself, which is detached from the system, which means if that light’s on, it’s sending data, period. It’s impossible for that camera to be on, without that light being on.

That’s one of the things that we felt was important for customers to understand when the microphone’s on.

Bathiche went on to explain the importance of the mic icon on the taskbar to notify users when the microphone is in use. Some laptops like Lenovo’s ThinkPad have solved the eavesdropping problem by adding a dedicated shutter to cover the camera and a hardware key to turn off the microphone.

While Microsoft does not provide those options, Bathiche believes that separating the camera LED and adding a microphone icon is enough to protect the privacy of the users. If you’re the paranoid type then you can always grab an aftermarket camera shutter or use some good old tape.