Scientists have found a new vulnerability in a common tech component, uncovering a security flaw that could expose potentially millions of smartphones, fitness wearables, and even cars to hacking.
By using sound waves, researchers have figured out how to trick accelerometers – the tiny sensors in gadgets that detect movement – into registering a fake motion signal, which hackers could exploit to take control of our devices.
“It’s like the opera singer who hits the note to break a wine glass, only in our case, we can spell out words,” computer scientist Kevin Fu from the University of Michigan told The New York Times.
“You can think of it as a musical virus.”
The sensors that Fu’s team investigated are called capacitive MEMS accelerometers, which register the rate of change in an object’s speed in three dimensions.
It’s these sensors that can tell which way you’re holding or tilting your smartphone or tablet, and count the steps you take using an activity tracker.
But they’re not just used in consumer gadgets – they’re also embedded in the circuits of things like medical devices, vehicles, and even satellites – and we’re becoming more reliant on them all the time.
“Thousands of everyday devices already contain tiny MEMS accelerometers,” Fu explains in a press release.