In brief: Apple machines have a reputation for being better protected from malware than their PC counterparts, but it doesn’t mean they’re completely immune. Helping prevent hackers from using a MacBook’s microphone to listen in on users is the new T2 security chip, which disconnects the mic at a hardware level whenever the lid is closed.
The second generation of the T2 chips, which appear in MacBook Pro models from 2018 and the recently announced MacBook Air, come with a secure enclave coprocessor that’s used for encrypted storage and secure boot capabilities. It also works with the FaceTime camera to improve the authentication process and secures Touch ID on Mac computers
Following Apple’s hardware event last week, the company released a security guide detailing the new hardware disconnect feature, which physically disables the microphone from the rest of the hardware once the lid is closed.
“All Mac portables with the Apple T2 Security Chip feature a hardware disconnect that ensures that the microphone is disabled whenever the lid is closed," explains the guide.
“This disconnect is implemented in hardware alone, and therefore prevents any software, even with root or kernel privileges in macOS, and even the software on the T2 chip, from engaging the microphone when the lid is closed.”
While the microphone is disconnected at a hardware level, the camera isn’t, though it’s not going to see much when the lid is closed.
The chip’s anti-spying capabilities will no doubt be appreciated by users. Many people, including Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, like to cover their laptops’ webcams to stop snoopers. And while such activities used to be thought of as a PC-only problem, the Fruitfly malware, which landed its creator 13 years in prison, showed Apple’s devices were also susceptible to these attacks. The T2's feature might only work when the lid is closed, but any extra secure layers are always welcome.