As if the world is not scary enough, researchers have found a way to illustrate how phones can be hacked by using sound waves. This is a very disturbing development to say the least, as it is seemingly impossible to protect against this type of behavior. Moreover, this technique can also be used to track consumers based on the GPS location of their mobile device.
Sound Waves Are A Threat To Mobile Devices
Having hackers infiltrate mobile and wearable devices has become a very real threat over the past few months. Not only are more mobile devices prone to hacking due to security concerns, but other attack vectors are becoming more prevalent as well in recent weeks. A new type of “exploit” revolves around the use of sound waves, which allows hackers to take control of the device in question. This vulnerability applies to phones, tablets, and wearable devices, all of which contain an accelerometer.
To be more specific, an accelerometer is a standard piece of hardware found in many consumer products these days. According to the researchers, they were able to manipulate said accelerator found in a Fitbit wearable to add extra steps to the user’s tally. While this is not a nefarious act that would cause long-term harm, it goes to show there is a vulnerability consumers need to be aware of at all times. However, a secondary test allowed the researchers to queue a music file on a smartphone without requiring physical access to the device.
Although both of these attacks are seemingly harmless, there is no limit as to what a hacker could do while controlling said device. In the case of a smartphone, copying sensitive information, listening in on phone calls, and stealing login credentials are all very real risks. Considering how the vulnerable type of accelerometer can be found in half of most commercial brands from five different chip makers, a lot of damage can be done by people abusing this exploit.
Our society relies more and more on mobile and wearable devices these days. Having so many products susceptible to an attack through sound waves is a great reason for concern, that much is certain. It is not a “doomsday” bug by any means, yet it highlights the bigger problem making this exploit possible in the first place. It is very well possible this vulnerability also applies to self-driving cars, for example.
Speaking of controlling cars, the researchers successfully took control of a toy car. Rather than overloading the device’s processor, they took control of the device by forcing the accelerometer to generate false readings. The toy car is linked to a smartphone app, which facilitated this process by quite a margin. Consumers have to realize accelerometers are found on other devices as well, particularly in the medical sector. For example, it would not be impossible to increase an insulin dose by taking control of the system.
It is evident there are many dangers that could have a severe impact on our society. Some people will exploit these vulnerabilities without the intent to cause harm. Others will take things one step further, which may result in people losing their lives in the process. No one expected an accelerometer to be the cause of so much potential damage. Then again, it remains to be seen how chip manufacturers will respond to these findings and whether or not they can address these issues sooner rather than later.
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