Hacking is becoming a bigger problem every day. Whether it’s protecting your identity, guarding against cryptocurrency theft, or just ensuring your simply usernames/passwords aren’t hacked, there is a constant need to protect both our physical and digital assets. As many know, one way we can really protect our own personal security is to cover the webcams on devices such as laptops and computer monitors, as people are able to hack into the cameras to watch our every move. The newest hacking trend is not so easy to guard against, as now many hackers are able to tap into microphones to hear everything.
With the videocam, hijackers, with the right malware, are able to record pictures, video, and audio. With the microphone, two of the three possibilities, you would think, no longer exist. However, researchers say that is not the case. With the microphone, hackers are able to employ a tool called a coil whine. A coil whine is a high-pitched sound which electronic devices produced when they are doing a lot of work. As researchers are able to listen into the coil whine, they are able to generate a series of lines from the raw data. The lines themselves do not display the information on the screen, but each line shows the intensity of the screen, in terms of pixilation. Finally, the hackers are able to use an algorithm, with over 95% accuracy, to determine what website is displayed on the screen at the time.
A research study conducted in 2016 by the Israel Institute of Technology utilized the concept coil whine to perform a test hack. They were able to develop a series of attack that allowed for them to steal encryptions keys from the PC they were monitoring. They also noted that the attack on a PS using this methodology has to occur within close proximity. In their study, they concluded they it could be carried out from 30 feet away using a parabolic microphone and 1 foot away if a mobile device was placed next to the PC.
While the new form of hacking is another threat for us everyday users to worry about, it appears that this approach will not be used anytime in the near future. With the technology on-hand, there are many other easier ways for hackers to figure out what web pages users are interacting with or gather their personal information. More importantly than the concept of this hack, this new approach shows that with the continued use of technology, particularly webcams and microphones, we need to be aware of the security risks that exist and do our best to mitigate these risks.