A sonic cyberattack could cause speakers to play dangerous sounds
Weapons that injure crowds of people by emitting dangerous sounds may seem like the stuff of science fiction. Unfortunately, malicious hackers might be able to do just that — but with Bluetooth- or WiFi-capable smartphones, headphones, speakers, or laptops.
Researcher Matt Wixey is unveiling research at the Def Con hacking conference that shows the potential for devices with speakers to be hacked and turned into sonic weapons, as reported by the BBC.
Wixey found that by creating a virus and exploiting “known weaknesses,” many devices have little protection to ensure the integrity of their speakers. Once hacked, devices could be made to play “dangerous” sounds, such as sounds at high or low frequencies that could deafen, disorient, or injure.
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.