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"SurfingAttack" Usings Smartphones Voice Assistant To Share Sensitive Info

Source: South China Morning Post / Getty

Another reason to be paranoid about security regarding your smartphone. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have discovered a new way hackers can gain access to sensitive information stored in your phone just using ultrasonic waves and your phone’s voice assistant.

The new and very frightening method is effective from up to 30 feet away. It works by sending “inaudible voice commands” to your device through different solid surfaces like a table according to the full report issued by the researchers. So your phone is basically being attacked, and you can’t hear it happening at all.

“Using our proposed attack, SurfingAttack1 , we found that it is possible to deliver various inaudible voice commands in ultrasound to a wide range of target devices from different manufacturers via different solid media.”

The researchers set up multiple scenarios as part of their study using specialized tools like an ultrasonic generator to produce the signal, a piezoelectric transducer that turns the electric signals into physical vibrations, and a hidden microphone to listen to the voice assistants responses. With this setup, they demonstrated how sensitive information could be stoled from a targeted device.

In a video, researchers showed how they were able to get the phone to take a selfie, turn up the device’s volume and read the SMS messages. It’s some real spooky stuff. BUT they do point out that the person carrying out the attack will need specialized equipment to. So it would look clearly evident if you see someone sitting with the setup you know something is up, according to assistant professor Ning Zhang. But Zhang did warn that there are alternatives that could be used and that cyber thieves could start designing their own hardware.

“I don’t think we will see such an attack a lot in common places, but probably used for a more targeted attack. The signal generator can be expensive and bulky, but you can design your own hardware to generate certain signals … depending on how DIY you want to do. A cell phone will also do if bulkiness is the main problem.”

You can see how it works in the video below.

Photo: South China Morning Post / Getty