It's a good step forward for security, but it doesn't help if your Mac laptop's lid is open.
- Apple's latest MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops physically disconnect their own microphones when users close their lids.
- It helps prevent eavesdroppers from using software-based attacks, like the FruitFly malware, to activate the microphone when you think the computer is asleep with the lid closed.
- It's a step forward, but it's not a complete solution for microphone-based security.
Apple's latest MacBook Air and 2018 MacBook Pros physically disconnect their own microphones when you close the lid, preventing eavesdropping hackers from listening in to conversations when you think the computer is in sleep mode with the lid closed.
It's Apple's "T2" security chip that the company includes in its latest lineup of MacBook Air and MacBook Pros that physically disconnects the microphones when the lid is closed. With a physical disconnection, software-based attacks like the FruitFly malware can't enable the microphone.
The cameras on the latest MacBook Air and MacBook Pros aren't disconnected, however, as the "field of view is completely obstructed when the lid is closed," Apple says in its T2 security chip documentation.
Physically disconnecting the microphone when a laptop's lid is closed is a good step towards better security, but it doesn't remove the risk of eavesdropping when the laptop's lid is open when it's being used, or even when it's gone to sleep with the lid open. There's no way to physically disconnect the microphone when a Mac laptop's lid is open, but some Mac apps like Oversight can at least notify you if your microphone has been enabled without your knowledge.
For total security against microphone-based malware, Apple would need to add some kind of physical switch to its laptops. Perhaps the company can take inspiration from its own iPhone's notification silent-switch, which switches the iPhone to vibrate-only mode. Adding that kind of a switch to a laptop would provide the best level of control and security since users could physically switch off the microphone for peace of mind (regardless of whether or not they're actualy using the laptop) and simply turn the mic back on when they need it.