Smart Devices have become an integral part of our lives: Many of us use them as a form of communication, entertainment, reminders, and event planning. However, in the last few years experts have warned of the numerous security vulnerabilities that smartphones and devices face, with very little protection available for these devices.
The University of Washington recently released a paper testing the abilities to use smartphones as a sonar “beacon” to track individuals’ locations and movements within a room. The goal of this research was to study low-cost covert physical sensing and further bring to light the serious privacy and security vulnerabilities that smartphones and smart devices (such as smart TVs and hubs like Amazon Echo) face. Researchers would create a sonar beacon by embedding a high frequency signal into music, inaudible to the average human, and play it on several devices (including a Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sharp TVs) through the speakers. By using a system to tap into the device’s microphone, the system can track how the signal bounces, detecting positions and movements of anyone near the audio.
The accuracy and range of this method is disturbing: It can accurately track from 8 centimeters up to 6 meters (approximately 20 feet) if the device is in line of sight, or 3 meters (approximately 10 feet) if there are barriers. (such as walls) Those who were being tracked in the tests were not able to identify the signals coming from the music on the devices versus songs without the signals. Researchers noted that placing the sonar code into the devices was a relatively easy process, adding the lack of security measures in place.
You might be wondering what can be done to prevent this-unfortunately, as this was a preliminary study, there are currently no security safeguards in place to prevent such a method from being used. The best preventative measures you can use are to not download any music or videos from unverified sources and to use headphones when listening on smart devices. (However, this would be difficult with smart televisions and hubs)