Attackers Can Break Laptops By Playing Damaging Sounds

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Sonic Boom

Thought your laptop was safe from attack? Think again. The University of Michigan and Zhejiang University found that attackers can break laptops by sound. Certain sounds played through the device’s speakers are wreaking havoc it seems.

In a paper called Blue Note, researchers outline how the playing of sonic and ultrasonic sounds can interfere with hard drives.  The sounds cause vibrations in the computer that disrupt the workings of the hard drive. In turn, the vibrations stop the computer from writing data. Above all, the sounds need only be played for as little as 12 seconds.

“Intentional acoustic interference causes unusual errors in the mechanics of magnetic hard disk drives in desktop and laptop computers. This can damage to integrity and availability in both hardware and software,” the paper states.

As a result, look for a software update to come along to recognize and prevent the sound from being played. Blue Note is the latest in a long line of methods that enable remote attacks. Likewise, recent similar bugs include text messages containing a white flag emoji, a “0” and a rainbow emoji that can crash an iPhone.

Sonic Cyberattacks

The sonic hackers could take over a device physically or remotely. In one instance, Wixey was able to scan WiFi and Bluetooth networks for vulnerable devices, and play the “weaponized sound” on the devices it identified.

Wixey tested his ability to take over devices in a soundproof room for his research. In addition to potentially harming people, the sonic takeovers also have the potential to damage devices.

Sonic attacks have seemingly been deployed against American diplomats in China and Cuba. In those cases, the people affected experienced symptoms similar to a “mild traumatic brain injury.” There are lots of unknowns in those two cases, but Wixey’s research could suggest one plausible explanation for what happened.

ClickAway technicians continually monitor new bugs, potential attacks and methods to prevent damage or interference. For this reason, we offer a free diagnostic, you can stop into one of our Bay Area computer stores to have your laptop checked for safety.

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