New Spy Malware Can Turn Headphones Into Microphones

/ 4 years ago

Headphone to Microphone Malware

It is the kind of stuff one only used to see in spy movies but researchers from Israel’s Ben Gurion University have demonstrated how a piece of headphone can be turned into a microphone and be used to snoop on an unsuspecting user via malware. The idea is to show how a determined hacker can hijack any computer, even if no microphones are plugged in or has been disabled, and turn it into a listening device through a piece of code.

The vulnerability relies on widely used Realtek audio solutions’ ability to re-task the jacks. Realtek is ubiquitous when it comes to motherboard audio that almost every computer out there uses their hardware from low-end units to laptops and high-end motherboards including the often-used Realtek ALC1150. The customized spy malware can re-purpose the earphones by converting the vibrations in the air into electromagnetic signals, while the earphone jack it is plugged into is re-tasked in the OS to function as an input device instead.

In their tests, the researchers used a pair of Sennheiser headphones and have successfully recorded audio from as far as 20 feet away. The audio was then compressed and sent over the internet with the user none-the-wiser. Since the re-tasking ability is an actual hardware feature, researchers say this is not a simple matter of applying a driver fix since it is not a bug. The researchers are also further looking into similar spying vulnerabilities with other audio solutions as well.

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