Clever malware lets hackers turn your headphones into a microphone

By Shawn Knight ยท 9 replies
Nov 22, 2016
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  1. In this post-Snowden era, it’s pretty safe to assume that virtually any electronic device – regardless of its intended purpose or perceived capabilities or limitations – is potentially capable of serving as a spy device in the hands of a motivated hacker.

    Anyone needing solid evidence of this need look no further than Israel’s Ben Gurion University where researchers have crafted a clever bit of code to turn an ordinary electronic device into an unassuming spy gadget.

    Dubbed Speak(a)r, the malicious code is able to leverage the speakers inside headphones or earbuds and use them as microphones. By converting vibrations in the air into electromagnetic signals, the researchers note that it’s possible to capture audio without a microphone clear across a room.

    As Wired correctly points out, the magic bit here isn’t the fact that headphones can be used as microphones (people have been doing that with ease for years) but rather, the technique the researchers are using to get there.

    The code they’ve written uses a little-known feature of RealTek audio codec chips that allows users to repurpose their computer’s audio output channel as the input channel. It’s incredibly simple and because the RealTek chips are so widely used, most machines – Windows and Mac – are susceptible. The fact that the ability to switch the audio channels is a feature and not a bug means there’s no easy “fix.”

    It’s likely that other audio chips are susceptible to similar attacks although the researchers haven’t yet got around to vetting any others.

    Permalink to story.

  2. Ean Mogg

    Ean Mogg TS Enthusiast Posts: 38   +17

    Oh No know I have to block off the Mic hole with tape ,,sigh
    Bigtruckseries likes this.
  3. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,728   +3,703

    OMG - Read the article. It says nothing about using your microphone. It is your audio output (aka: speaker) you will need to put tape on or disable, to stop this malware from listening in on your conversation.
  4. Evernessince

    Evernessince TS Evangelist Posts: 2,106   +1,286

    This isn't too amazing. The problem with using headphones as a mic is that they either pick up nothing or everything. They aren't designed to avoid picking up static, background noise, ect.

    Even if hackers could listen in on your headphones they likely wouldn't be within distance to hear anything and if you are somehow next to your mic when speaking they wouldn't get anything too clear.
  5. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 8,647   +3,274

    Maybe the next, new and improved version of this malware will contain some sort of built in noise cancellation. It will never do for hackers to hear all the wrong things now, will it? ;)
    Evernessince likes this.
  6. Bigtruckseries

    Bigtruckseries TS Evangelist Posts: 583   +318

    My XBOX ONE's Kinect faces my bed where my woman and I sleep and it's in "Always-on" mode.

    Are you telling me that there's a possibility that it could possibly be recording us at any given time?
  7. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,681   +1,080

    Cool! Now people can hear what my ears sound like! ;P
  8. Igrecman

    Igrecman TS Maniac Posts: 212   +123

    Most sound cards have a "stereo mix" option. It does turn everything that is played or said in a microphone into an input for any software to use with perfect quality. In that case it is not actually the speakers or headphones acting as a microphone. That is not much different from what they talk about in the article, it does the same thing with better sound quality, and can probably be hacked as well I guess. You should disable that if you don't use it. I do use it often with Audacity and OBS when recording the screen or any sounds from any website.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2016
  9. Mr WW

    Mr WW TS Member Posts: 23

    Like everyone is letting headphones hangin on a laptop/pc.
    Every iMac of Macbook has a build-in microphone, please hack that first, more chance and better quality.
  10. PrimateGod

    PrimateGod TS Rookie

    Lucky me ... my condoms are big enough to cover both mic and headphones

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