Malware Turning Headphones into Microphones

Can you imagine your headphones transforming into microphones without your knowledge! Even worse, a hacker eavesdropping on your conversations through this technology! This is the potential of a malware that researchers demonstrated can lead to privacy infringement.

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) demonstrated how the malware named SPEAKE(a)R can attack most PCs and laptops today. SPEAKE(a)R can secretly convert headphones into microphones and exploit this simple technology for ulterior motives.

A computer has several audio jacks in its panel, either in the front, rear or both. Each jack/port is either for input (line-in) or output (line-out). In today’s advanced motherboards and sound cards, there is an option to change the functionality of these ports with the help of software. This reprogramming of audio ports is called jack re-tasking or jack remapping.

Malware in a computer can reconfigure the headphone jack to a microphone jack without the user’s knowledge. This will make the headphones connected with the computer to function as a microphone and thus, an eavesdropping device.

To prevent this possible abuse by hackers, counter measures are being taken. Anti-malware, intrusion detection systems and mechanisms to detect unauthorized speaker-to-mic re-tasking operations are being developed.




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