By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer
Feeling pretty relaxed in the coffee shop while that jazzy music plays? Well, what if I told you that just by using sound or light, computer hackers – people who can get into your computer or smartphone and take your stuff – might one day be able to trigger a hack?
Now, don’t panic just yet. In order for a hacker to pull off this incredibly difficult attack, they would need to already have malware – a bad kind of software – installed in your computer. For instance, maybe you clicked on an unsafe link in your e-mail or visited a suspicious website, and now there’s malware downloaded on the computer. Now, what happens next is that hackers may be able to trigger their malware with hidden messages in music, music videos, or even light from a TV!
At least, this is what researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have discovered. They found that smartphones are especially vulnerable. Why? They’re almost always on, connected to the internet, and have both audio sensors (like the little you speak into) and visual sensors (like the camera). Using this new kind of attack, a hacker can have malware triggered from over 55 feet away.
While it may seem silly for a hacker to go through all the trouble of getting malware on your computer, and then standing nearby to play their music loudly just to get in your stuff, the research shows that this attack can take many different shapes. Fortunately, it’s not easy to pull off right now. Sharms Zawoad, who presented the paper in China, says, “This kind of attack is sophisticated and difficult to build, but it will become increasingly easier to accomplish in the future as technology improves.”
With good guys like Zawoad keeping watch, we’ll be more ready when these attacks become common. Considering how easy it is for companies to learn what television shows we watch and what music we listen to from services like Facebook and Twitter, a hacker could easily program their malware to target your favorite entertainment. So, while you don’t need to cover your poor little smartphone’s ears or turn its camera away from suspicious lights, it’s a good idea to at least know what the future may bring!
Featured image courtesy of University of Alabama at Birmingham