Access and Feeds

Security: Speakers and Microphones Causing Disruption and Hacking via Inaudible High Frequencies

By Dick Weisinger

The many high-tech devices with speakers that we interact with daily may be hidden carriers of malware that are disrupting and hacking your life in ways that you didn’t at all expect.

Many of the phones and speaker devices that we interact with are capable of both giving off and receiving very high-frequency tones that are inaudible to humans, something similar to the high frequencies used in dog whistles.

Devices can potentially listen in on high-frequency sounds to gain more information about the user, their location and their actions. Some of the information could be useful to marketers in building up a profile of a person. On the positive side, some of the sounds could be used to uniquely identify the user and actually provide greater security for the user.

In 2020, researchers showed how Siri could be hijacked on Apple devices using high frequency ultrasound. The hacker could gain access to private data and even control tasks that could be performed by Siri, like making phone calls and taking pictures.

In 2019, Matt Wixey, cybersecurity research lead at the technology consulting firm PWC UK, said that “it’s surprisingly easy to write custom malware that can induce all sorts of embedded speakers to emit inaudible frequencies at high intensity, or blast out audible sounds at high volume. We wondered if an attacker could develop malware or attacks to emit noise exceeding maximum permissible level guidelines, and therefore potentially cause adverse effects to users or people around… The upshot of it is that the minority of the devices we tested could in theory be attacked and repurposed as acoustic weapons.”

As reports have been made of possible high-frequency hacking, vendors have attempted to plug the holes, but the potential dangers of high-frequency sound haven’t been publicized much, so the exact extent of the current risk and danger isn’t fully known.

Vasilios Mavroudis, a privacy and security researcher at University College London, said in 2016 that “there is a lack of transparency. Users are basically clueless about what’s going on.”

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