Hackers Might Have a Pulsating New Way To Spy on You Through Your Device


Hackers may be pickin' up good vibrations from your phone. All the better to surveil you with, my dear. 

Researchers at the Electrical and Computer Engineering school of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discovered that the vibration motor in your devices can operate like a microphone, according to the researchers' paper. That means, if a hacker rewires your vibration motor (which TechCrunch reported could be executed "in a minute or two"), they can listen to what you're saying. 

The system, VibraPhone, works on any device with a vibration motor — which includes our phones and wearables. 

Carolyn Kaster/AP

And it works damn well. Humans were able to understand the recorded words via the vibration motor with greater than 80% average accuracy, according to the researchers' paper. The researchers note that the "fidelity to which this is possible has been somewhat unexpected." More great news for malware eavesdroppers: This system doesn't require any machine learning or pattern recognition to extract the decoded sounds. 

It does have a weakness though: high frequencies. So if you're squeaking like a chipmunk, chances are the system won't be able to pick up your sounds. This also includes some consonants and vowels like "i" and "e" which have frequencies high enough to be suppressed by the system, according to the paper. 

But it's not all wiretapping and espionage — the VibraPhone can be used for good. The researchers also see the system as a way to recover speech from the vibrations of vocal cords, facial bones or skull, which can help to build better assistive technology for individuals with speech impairment, TechCrunch reported.

And this isn't the first time researchers have translated sweet vibrations into words — researchers at MIT, Microsoft and Adobe previously created an algorithm that extracted audio from a vibrating potato-chip bag