Attackers Can Break Laptops By Playing Damaging Sounds

break laptops

How They Break Laptops With 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 and break laptops.  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.

What Is A Sonic Boom Anyway?

Ever heard a loud boom which made the windows of your house rattle? This phenomenon is called a sonic boom, caused by objects travelling at supersonic speeds. People usually tend to get alarmed when they hear sonic booms, but it is very simple and common scientific phenomenon.

Occurrences of sonic booms have been observed before. Usually, people can hear a loud, deafening boom during a sonic boom. Sometimes, the sound can be loud enough to cause tremors, mimicking an earthquake.

A sonic boom happens when that air “escapes”, creating a ripple effect which can be heard on the ground as a loud thunderclap. The speed of sound varies. It is about 770mph (1,200km/h) at sea level, but slower at higher altitudes. A sonic boom is most commonly heard when an aircraft is travelling at a low altitude, which leads to a very loud boom and tremors in the ground. Since this can cause structural damage, aircrafts are not allowed to fly altitudes. Now, we’re reading about digital sonic booms that break laptops.

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