Hackers Can Now Break Into Your Phone Using Music

Hackers Can Now Break Into Your Phone Using Music


With so much important stuff on your phone,
companies have gone to great lengths to make them secure. They’ve taken steps to keep hackers from
breaking into your phone, either physically or digitally, but what about audibly? Researchers from the University of Michigan
and the University of South Carolina have found it’s possible to hack your phone using
sound. The process works by tricking the phone’s
accelerometer, the hardware that senses movement and a word you’re going to hate by the end
of this episode. You know when you flip your phone sideways
and it switches to landscape mode? That’s because of the accelerometer. That’s twice we said it already. The researchers tested 20 accelerometer models
from 5 different manufacturers by playing certain sounds over a cheap speaker. They found 65% of them could be manipulated
with a sonic attack. This isn’t an entirely new concept; previous
research has demonstrated that sound waves could be used to disable accelerometers entirely. What this research shows is that accelerometers
can be finely controlled with sound too, not just shut down. The vulnerability comes from a simple oversight:
manufacturers didn’t expect anybody to monkey with the accelerometer, so the software that
interprets the input takes it as gospel. Of course an attack like this can only affect
software that relies on the accelerometer, so it can’t be used to steal your personal
info or anything like that. The scientists demonstrated that sound could
be used to drive an radio controlled car that was controlled by a phone, or hack a fitbit
into counting steps while it was sitting still. Just be lazy but tell yourself you worked. Awright so that doesn’t sound that alarming,
but this could go beyond just phones. Self driving cars rely on a suite of sensors
including accelerometers and so they could be at risk. You don’t want somebody meddling with how
your car drives in any circumstance, but doubly so when you’re not steering it. The researchers imagined other nefarious uses
for this exploit. For example, if an insulin pump relies on
an accelerometer to automate dosage, tampering with it could be fatal. The good news is most of these attacks can
be thwarted with software rather than hardware, and the researchers contacted the manufacturers
of the accelerometers with recommendations on how to fix the flaws in their designs. This technique was also only tested on one
of the major types of accelerometers, called a capacitance accelerometer, which works by
moving small masses around. The most common technology relies on piezoelectric
accelerometers instead, where microscopic crystals become stressed by acceleration and
create a voltage that is interpreted by a chip. The researchers say sound waves could move
the small masses inside a capacitance accelerometer, but it’s unclear if the same trick would work
on these crystals. Hacking phones with sound actually has a long
and illustrious history. Starting in the 1950s people who called themselves
phreakers with (a “PH”) figured out how to game the telephone system to make free
calls using nothing but sound. Telephone systems used precise frequencies
to route calls, it’s why your phone’s buttons make specific tones when you press
them. So by playing the right frequencies into the
receiver, phreakers could connect to whomever they liked. These people were like proto-hackers, with
anonymous personas and everything. Two phreakers who would later become famous
were a couple teenagers named Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. Long before Apple, the two experimented with
creating digital circuits that could create tones to hack phones. One of their first business ventures was selling
homemade phreaking boxes, which actually caught the attention of the FBI, though they never
caught the Steves. It’s a bit ironic that 40 years after Steve
Jobs toyed around with phreaking, people might be figuring out how to use sound to hack the
phones he helped create. Special thanks to our sponsor, Domain dot
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like a DOT COM or DOT NET domain name. Get 15% off Domain Dot Com’s already affordable
domain names and web hosting when you use coupon code SEEKER at checkout. If you want to learn why it’s hard to hack
into a phone with software, check out Julian’s video on iphone encryption here. Ok I know I said accelerometer a lot, but
I couldn’t help it, there is literally no synonym for accelerometer. How many times do you think I said it? Let us know in the comments and go ahead and
subscribe while you’re down there. Thanks for watching Seeker! Accelerometer.

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