It’s understandable to be cautious about hackers taking control of a laptop’s microphone to eavesdrop. But when they start using the headphone as a mic, things start to get very creepy.
A team of Israeli researchers from the Ben Gurion University managed to create a “proof-of-concept” malware called “Speake(a)r”that can hijack a pair of headphones and turn them into microphones, reports Wired.
The code basically exploits a little-known feature of RealTek audio codec chips that allow it to repurpose the speakers in earbuds into microphones even when it has no in-line mic. Speakers essentially make sound by converting electromagnetic signals into vibrations that go into the membrane to create sound waves. The hack reverses this process and captures the vibrations in the air and convert them into electromagnetic signals that can be recorded. Because RealTek chips are present in just about every desktop and laptop computer around the world, Windows-based or MacOS hackers can easily take advantage of what this malware can do.
“Your headphones do make a good, quality microphone,” said Mordechai Guri, the research head of Ben Gurion’s Cyber Security Research Labs.
This is by no means harming the RealTek chip because it is an inherent feature of their technology. A simple patch will not be able to plug the hole, and a complete redesign will be necessary.
The researchers are still trying to figure out if other chips have similar vulnerabilities. They believe that it is theoretically possible that other chips are also susceptible.