ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Israeli researchers: Snoops can hack your headphones to record conversations

Ben Gurion University team reveals software glitch that allows headsets to be ‘re-purposed‘ as microphones

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Cyber researchers at Ben Gurion University have developed malware to prove that headphones and earphones can be ‘re-purposed‘ to enable snoops to record your private conversations, November 23, 2016. YouTube screenshot)
Cyber researchers at Ben Gurion University have developed malware to prove that headphones and earphones can be ‘re-purposed‘ to enable snoops to record your private conversations, November 23, 2016. YouTube screenshot)

First we learned that hackers could watch us undress through our webcams, then we discovered that they could listen to us answering security questions and giving passwords through our microphones.

Now, an Israeli team has found, mischief-makers can theoretically convert our headphones into microphones to record our conversations, Wired magazine reported Tuesday.

Researchers at Ben Gurion University of the Negev have developed a prototype, known in the trade as a proof of concept, to show that headphones can be re-purposed into microphones to enable a snooper on one side of a room to record a conversation being conducted on the other by someone using a headset.

Headphone speakers convert electromagnetic signals into sound waves through a membrane’s vibrations. The malware developed by the Ben Gurion team programs the membranes to work in reverse — picking up sound vibrations and converting them back into electromagnetic signals.

“Even if you remove your computer’s microphone, if you use headphones you can be recorded,” said Mordechai Guri, who led the research in the laboratories of the university’s Cyber Security Research Center.

The team’s malware — malicious software — exploits a little-known feature of RealTek, software that controls sound. Because RealTek is so widely used, the malware works on almost any desktop computer, as well as most laptops.

So far, there is no simple remedy for this kind of audio peephole, Guri said, adding that RealTek’s chip will probably need to be redesigned for future computers.

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