Those looking for complete privacy on their computers have been covering up their forward-facing cameras for years, but now researchers have discovered a different way that hackers can potentially crack into your most private moments — your headphones.
Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have discovered that all it takes to transform normal headphones into microphones is a simple bit of malware, according to Wired. That is because microphones and headphones both use the same basic pieces of technology to function.
“Just as the speakers in headphones turn electromagnetic signals into sound waves through a membrane’s vibrations,” Wired reports, “those membranes can also work in reverse, picking up sound vibrations and converting them back to electromagnetic signals.”
In order for hackers to transform one’s headphones into microphones, they need to attack Realtek audio codec chips, which are fairly common in desktop and laptop computers. To record audio, they reassign the computer’s output channel as an input channel, using the attached headphones as a mic.
According to the researchers, virtually every computer on the planet could be vulnerable to this form of attack, as the only way to get rid of the vulnerability is to actually get rid of the chips themselves — which is unlikely, considering their widespread use.
While there have not been any major reports of people being hacked this way, those dealing with sensitive information may wish to unplug their headphones or speakers before doing so — similar to how many people cover up the camera on their laptop or desktop computer except when in use.
Those actively listening to music have little to worry though, as headphones cannot record and play sounds at the same time. Heck, playing music while having intimate conversations is also a good way to avoid busybodies in real life, too.