Malware that turns PCs into eavesdropping devices demonstrated by Ben-Gurion U.

November 22, 2016

BEER-SHEVA, Israel, Nov. 22, 2016 - Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) have demonstrated malware that can turn computers into perpetual eavesdropping devices, even without a microphone.

In the new paper, "SPEAKE(a)R: Turn Speakers to Microphones for Fun and Profit," the researchers explain and demonstrate how most PCs and laptops today are susceptible to this type of attack. Using SPEAKE(a)R, malware that can covertly transform headphones into a pair of microphones, they show how commonly used technology can be exploited.

"The fact that headphones, earphones and speakers are physically built like microphones and that an audio port's role in the PC can be reprogrammed from output to input creates a vulnerability that can be abused by hackers," says Prof. Yuval Elovici, director of the BGU Cyber Security Research Center (CSRC) and member of BGU's Department of Information Systems Engineering.

"This is the reason people like Facebook Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg tape up their mic and webcam," says Mordechai Guri, lead researcher and head of Research and Development at the CSRC. "You might tape the mic, but would be unlikely to tape the headphones or speakers."

A typical computer chassis contains a number of audio jacks, either in the front panel, rear panel or both. Each jack is used either for input (line-in), or for output (line-out). The audio chipsets in modern motherboards and sound cards include an option for changing the function of an audio port with software -a type of audio port programming referred to as jack retasking or jack remapping.

Malware can stealthily reconfigure the headphone jack from a line-out jack to a microphone jack, making the connected headphones function as a pair of recording microphones and turning the computer into an eavesdropping device. This works even when the computer doesn't have a connected microphone, as demonstrated in the SPEAKE(a)R video.

The BGU researchers studied several attack scenarios to evaluate the signal quality of simple off-the-shelf headphones. "We demonstrated is possible to acquire intelligible audio through earphones up to several meters away," said Dr. Yosef Solewicz, an acoustic researcher at the BGU CSRC.

Potential software countermeasures include completely disabling audio hardware, using an HD audio driver to alert users when microphones are being accessed, and developing and enforcing a strict rejacking policy within the industry. Anti-malware and intrusion detection systems could also be developed to monitor and detect unauthorized speaker-to-mic retasking operations and block them.
-end-
About American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) plays a vital role in sustaining David Ben-Gurion's vision: creating a world-class institution of education and research in the Israeli desert, nurturing the Negev community and sharing the University's expertise locally and around the globe. As Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) looks ahead to turning 50 in 2020, AABGU imagines a future that goes beyond the walls of academia. It is a future where BGU invents a new world and inspires a vision for a stronger Israel and its next generation of leaders. Together with supporters, AABGU will help the University foster excellence in teaching, research and outreach to the communities of the Negev for the next 50 years and beyond. Visit vision.aabgu.org to learn more.

AABGU, which is headquartered in Manhattan, has nine regional offices throughout the United States. For more information, visit http://www.aabgu.org

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Related Malware Articles from Brightsurf:

No honor among cyber thieves
A backstabbing crime boss and thousands of people looking for free tutorials on hacking and identity theft were two of the more interesting findings of a study examining user activity on two online 'carding forums,' illegal sites that specialize in stolen credit card information.

Browser tool aims to help researchers ID malicious websites, code
Researchers have developed an open-source tool that allows users to track and record the behavior of JavaScript programs without alerting the websites that run those programs.

Tech companies not doing enough to protect users from phishing scams
Just over 15 years after the first reported incident of phishing, new research from the University of Plymouth suggests tech companies could be doing more to protect users from the threat of scams.

New computer attack mimics user's keystroke characteristics and evades detection, according to Ben-Gurion University cyber researchers
'Our proposed detection modules are trusted and secured, based on information that can be measured from side-channel resources, in addition to data transmission,' Farhi says.

Illinois researchers add 'time-travel' feature to drives to fight ransomware attacks
One of the latest cyber threats involves hackers encrypting user files and then charging ''ransom'' to get them back.

Design flaws create security vulnerabilities for 'smart home' internet-of-things devices
NC State researchers find countermeasures for designers of security systems and other smart home devices.

New technique uses power anomalies to ID malware in embedded systems
Researchers have developed a technique for detecting types of malware that use a system's architecture to thwart traditional security measures.

How a personality trait puts you at risk for cybercrime
Impulse online shopping, downloading music and compulsive email use are all signs of a certain personality trait that make you a target for malware attacks.

Research finds bots and Russian trolls influenced vaccine discussion on Twitter
Social media bots and Russian trolls promoted discord and spread false information about vaccines on Twitter using tactics similar to those at work during the 2016 United States presidential election, according to new research led by the George Washington University.

New malicious email detection method that outperforms 60 antivirus engines -- Ben-Gurion
They compared their detection model to 60 industry-leading antivirus engines as well as previous research, and found their system outperformed the next best antivirus engine by 13 percent -- significantly better than such products including Kaspersky, MacAfee and Avast.

Read More: Malware News and Malware Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.