Hack Uses Headphone Speakers To Record Sound

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Researchers have created a proof of concept that demonstrates how to use headphone speakers to record sound secretly.

FBI Director James Comey and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg cover the webcams of their laptops with tape because they can be hacked easily. Zuckerberg, like many people concerned with privacy, also covers his microphone jack with a tap; however, that might not be enough anymore.

Researchers at Israel’s Ben Gurion University have created a proof of concept that allows them to record without a microphone or webcam connected to a computer and have written code that exploits a feature of the Realtek audio chip that allows the computer output (headphone jack) to be used as an input channel. That speakers found in headphones can be used as microphones by converting vibrations in the air into electric signals was already a known fact.

In their experiment, researchers used Sennheiser headphones and were able to record sound from as far as 20 feet away.

Realtek audio chips are the most common chips found in Windows and Mac OS devices, and the code can affect either of the two platforms.

The new code is very valuable because many people concerned with privacy, such as journalists and whistleblowers, take extra steps to disconnect their microphones physically from their laptops and smartphones, but this newly discovered hack renders all those measures moot.

Considering the wide use of Realtek chips and no software to patch its vulnerability, this finding is a real threat that can be exploited by oppressive governments and cybercriminals to monitor their targets. Perhaps the fact that Apple dropped the 3.5mm jack from the iPhone 7 was a good idea.

11/23/2016
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