In a world where mass surveillance on civilians and rampant government espionage is no longer conspiracy theory, it’s increasingly hard to keep the uninvited from peering into our lives. Well, thanks to a new hack to turns your crappy earbuds into a microphone, keeping a secret just got even harder.
A team of researchers from Israel’s Ben Gurion University have announced the creation of a malware program that can hijack the speakers in a pair of earbuds by repurposing a computer’s audio chip, turning that pair of headphones into a speaker that can secretly record your conversations from over twenty feet away. It’s as genius as it is scary.
The proof-of-concept program is named “Speak(er)” and was created in order to demonstrate how easy it was to work around the extreme precautions taken by the exceptionally paranoid, such as removing the internal microphone from a computer (much like Edward Snowden demonstrated to VICE news). Ben Gurion researchers proved that you can run, but you can’t hide.
“It is possible to manipulate the headphones (or earphones) connected to a computer, silently turning them into a pair of eavesdropping microphones – with software alone,” the team wrote. “The same is also true for some types of loudspeakers.”
Turning headphones into microphones, and vice versa, is nothing new, but the ability to retask a computer’s RealTek audio codec chip to pull audio from an output-only jack is. What Ben Gurion have proven with the creation of “Speak(er)” is that nearly every computer is vulnerable to this new type of covert surveillance.
The team have submitted a research paper that examines “an attack scenario in which malware can use a computer as an eavesdropping device, even when a microphone is not present, muted, taped, or turned off,” but they’ve also presented some potential defensive countermeasures, so not all hope is lost. You can check that paper out here.
We’ve already seen that even the savviest in the tech industry have resorted to putting a little piece of tape over their laptop’s webcams, but now it might be good idea for the conspiracy-minded to start keeping the headphones unplugged too. Or, you could always be be sure that your speakers are occupied by playing this on repeat: