back to article Boffins build microphone safety kit to detect eavesdroppers

Scientists from the National University of Singapore and Yonsei University in the Republic of Korea have developed a device for verifying whether your laptop microphone is secretly recording your conversations. The researchers – Soundarya Ramesh, Ghozali Suhariyanto Hadi, Sihun Yang, Mun Choon Chan, and Jun Han – call the …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    If there's a hardware switch, where's the problem ?

    It's not difficult to create a hardware notification of mic activity. If the mic is on, then it is using current. Detect the use of current, and light up the LED.

    No software can go against that.

    If you have a hardware switch, well that prevents the mic from getting current. No software can counter that either.

    But of course, this needs to be implemented in hardware.

    1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

      Re: If there's a hardware switch, where's the problem ?

      Blu Tak* also works pretty well.

      (*Other adhesive putty brands are available.)

    2. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: If there's a hardware switch, where's the problem ?

      SWIFT had a hardware solution to microphones, and various other security risks. Clippers. Basic, but effective, they castrate their computers at the door. Nobody dared ask, "But what if I need a microphone?" lest they used the clippers on you.

    3. ThatOne Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: If there's a hardware switch, where's the problem ?

      > If you have a hardware switch

      A hardware switch??? In each laptop? Do you want their families to starve?...

    4. Helcat

      Re: If there's a hardware switch, where's the problem ?

      Here's another hardware solution: Don't install a Mic or camera in the laptop.

      Saves money, and leaves it to those who want and/or need a mic and/or camera to sort out something suitable for them. Also stops them using the laptop mic as that's really annoying in addition to a potential privacy breach...

      1. VoiceOfTruth

        Re: If there's a hardware switch, where's the problem ?

        I would prefer a hardware switch for those occasions when I do want a microphone, e.g. Skype calls. It's not too often that I need it, but not having to carry around a plugin microphone is handy.

      2. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: If there's a hardware switch, where's the problem ?

        > Don't install a Mic or camera in the laptop.

        That would be perfect, but it is simply impossible in this period where virtual meetings have become so fancy you absolutely need to have them. Marketing will tell you people only buy their computer for Teams/Zoom/Whatever.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If there's a hardware switch, where's the problem ?

      Well, the article says that.

  2. Mishak Silver badge

    Looks like a good tool...

    To detect which machines have the lowest EM footprint ;-)

    1. Mike 125

      Re: Looks like a good tool...

      >To detect which machines have the lowest EM footprint ;-)

      And which are vulnerable to as yet undreamt-of side channel attacks.

      Forget the air gap. A continuous, detailed, real-time analysis of the physical parameters of a machine, (power consumption, noise, peripheral activity, etc.) would make the attack surface almost infinite.

      Without source code and an authenticated nod from the Schneier-Meister, I wouldn't let that device in the building, let alone near a laptop.

      Go clunky switch!

      1. DS999 Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: Looks like a good tool...

        If you have a device close enough to the laptop to sense this low level MEMS leakage, then skip a step and simply have your own microphone to pick up the same sound the laptop's microphone is picking up!

        This thing is really a massively brute force solution to figuring out if your microphone is enabled. Anyone worried enough that they'd buy this device should physically cut the wires to their laptop's microphone and camera, and get a USB attached webcam they can connect only when they want to use it.

        I mean a physical switch is great, but what if doesn't work as advertised? Can you really trust it does what it is supposed to and any failure will fail in the 'off' position? Those who are suitably paranoid would say no, I'm sure.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just in case you want to leave the lid open on MacBooks..

    .. there is Objective-See's Oversight - also useful if you have an iMac (desktop) as it's rather short of a lid :).

    In addition, every iOS and MacOS device shows a dot on the screen when the mics and/or camera are live, I think it's orange for the microphone(s) and green if the camera is active as well, but that's in software and so marginally more at risk. There are a number of security barriers to cross first but it is thus by definition to be considered merely hard, not impossible.

  4. Ste Van De Mull

    LG TV calling home

    I would really love to find out if my LG TV is uploading my Mic / Remote control Voice to LG every night.

    I recently carried out research into what connects to the internet at night.

    Yes, you guessed it, my new LG TV connects at about 4am and was updating all the guff I get on my home screen.

    Now I only turn the Network on when I need to use Netflix or Pluto TV, I then turn it off.

    I also added a load of Ad sites to my routers blocked list and this has mega reduced the Internet Lag.

    I also turn internet and TV off at night, it may also save me electricity.

    Result

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: LG TV calling home

      So that 70s public information ad about 'the TV set should be unplugged last thing every night...bedtime routine' is back but so a Korean chaebol can't spy on you rather than shoddy British electronics burning down your house

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      There's a far better solution to that problem

      Don't allow the LG TV to ever connect to the internet, and use a set top / stick device that doesn't include voice function (or you trust will disable it if you set it disabled) for streaming not your TV.

      1. richdin

        Re: There's a far better solution to that problem

        ALL my devices are connected with managed switches (Mikrotik, 1 to a room). Easy to disconnect when a device is unneeded

  5. Swarthy Silver badge

    Awareness and alerting is all well and good

    But I want something that emits an EM field that will cause a mic to record some gawd-awful feedback without being picked up by Mk1 Earballs (Much like shining an IR light into a camera). This would also be useful for the voice-operated "smart" TVs that are absolutely not spying on you. Bonus points if the EM field would not effect hearing aids.

    I would also accept if the EM field just generated white noise, but I would love either a 15KHz tone, or failing that, Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up"

  6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    call the device TickTock.

    "That may suit a lab project but would obviously invite a trademark lawsuit from a similarly named social media company were commercialization ever considered."

    Why? It's very, very different from any form of social media application. Otherwise the estate of L. Frank Baum would be suing the social media video app first. Tik Tok was a very sociable mechanical man, a robot of sorts, and much closer to being a social network than this system.

    1. C R Mudgeon

      Re: call the device TickTock.

      "It's very, very different from any form of social media application."

      In theory, that's a good reason a lawsuit ought to fail. Whether it would be attempted, though, is a different question.

      In practice, the result would come down as much to who has the deeper pockets.

  7. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    Tick Tock is also the name of a redbush tea that existed long before the social media company.

    And a tea is probably closer in usage to social media than a microphone-detector.

    So I don't think Tik Tok would have much of a case, being name-thieves themselves.

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