How Hackers Turn a Smartphone into a Weapon

An information security researcher discovered a vulnerability in smartphones that allows attackers to turn a gadget into some kind of sound weapon – a hacker can connect to the device and make it play sounds at different frequencies, which are dangerous for human health. How such attacks work is in the material.

Many modern gadgets can be hacked and made to play sounds that have a negative impact on human health, reports the BBC, citing IB researcher Matt Vicksie, who holds the post of head of the cybersecurity department at PwC.

According to Vicksi, he tested laptops, smartphones, headphones, and speakerphones.

Many of these devices had a weak level of protection, allowing an attacker to gain access to them and turn them into a kind of sonic weapon.

A hacked gadget can play sounds at high or low frequencies that can cause physical harm to the human body. If in some cases these audio recordings could only cause irritation or disorientate the owner, then during the experiment, examples were recorded when the sound coming from the smartphone could lead to hearing impairment.

Vicksi said that he had already contacted the manufacturers of the tested devices and informed them of this vulnerability.

In general, certain speakers can create low-frequency noises (infrasound), which are known to cause problems such as headaches, dizziness, irritation, fatigue, tinnitus, heart palpitations, and a general feeling of pressure on the stomach.

They say that sounds of about 17 Hz are used in horror films to make people feel awkward or nervous, ”the expert explained.

Back in 2017, Trend Micro researchers found a flaw in the smart speakers Sonos and Bose, allowing them to crack and play any sound. Not only people, but also equipment can suffer from these sounds: in April 2018, an emergency occurred in the Swedish Digiplex data center, which is responsible for Nasdaq operations in Northern Europe. An extremely loud fire extinguishing system disabled damaged hard drives – the machines that hosted the services of Nasdaq and Finnish banks FIM Bank and OP Bank Group were damaged.

It is worth noting that the sound can also be used to crack gadgets: in 2017, researchers from Zhejiang University during the experiment proved that the voice assistants Siri, Cortana, Google, Alexa can be controlled using ultrasound inaccessible to the human ear.