Look! Sound Waves Can Hack Smartphones


Let’s try a test. Conjure up an image of a hacker, someone compromising your cyber security, or swiping data from your smartphone. What did you imagine? A computer programmer perhaps? Were were utilising code on another computer to infiltrate your tech device? Probably.

But, what if we told you that it’s possible to hack someone’s smartphone using sound waves. Concerned? Maybe it’s time to start being nicer to your neighbour making brutal Future Garage at two in the morning. Or, maybe not…

Researchers from the University of Michigan have discovered sound waves can indeed be used to hack hardware sensors like MEMS accelerometers used in smartphones, medical devices or even cars and aeroplanes. It turns out these accelerometers can be tricked (well they’ve managed to hack 15 different brands so far) which then send false messages to the microprocessor. 

“The researchers performed several proof-of-concept demonstrations of what’s possible: They used a $5 speaker to inject thousands of fictitious steps into a Fitbit. They played a malicious music file from a smartphone’s own speaker to control the phone’s accelerometer trusted by an Android app to pilot a toy remote control car. They used a different malicious music file to cause a Samsung Galaxy S5’s accelerometer to spell out the word “WALNUT” in a graph of its readings.” OK, so not exactly on par with hacking a country’s political elections, but it’s just the beginning.

So how does this work? This video is well worth watching:

“The researchers identified the resonant frequencies of 20 different accelerometers from five different manufacturers. Then they tricked them into decoding sounds as false sensor readings that they then delivered to the microprocessor.” The researchers have alerted the manufacturers and deployed software-based systems that can reduce the risk of hacking using sound waves.

 

 



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