Your iPhone Can Be Hacked with a Laser Pointer

Beware: New study has shown a terrifying method for attackers to covertly hack the virtual assistant on your iPhone.

iPhone Can Be Hacked; Our lives are made incredibly simpler by virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa, but they may also make us more susceptible. Researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo claim that a security hole in the assistants’ microphones may jeopardize the security of our devices as well as our privacy. They discovered that with tools as basic as laser pointers, hackers may commandeer voice-controlled devices like iPhones, according to research they presented in a report last year.

How a laser pointer can hack your iPhone

The study discovered that virtual assistants like Siri respond to light waves in the same manner that they do to sound waves. The researchers were able to deceive a device into receiving orders as though it had heard a spoken cue by shining a laser beam at the microphone. According to Randy Pargman, senior director at Binary Defence, a cybersecurity firm, “it’s just like’ speaking’ through a laser beam, in such a way that the microphone can ‘hear’ it but of course your ears cannot.”

iPhone Can Be Hacked

The researchers tested the hack for seven months on devices equipped with Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri, and found that they could send light commands up to hundreds of feet distant using anything from $14 laser pointers to flashlights.

What this means for individual safety

A hacker can gain access to anything that accepts voice commands once they have taken control of a voice-activated assistant. According to Pargman, users who merely use Siri to keep a grocery list or get the weather are not at risk. But he adds that “those who have their security connected to voice commands” should be “far more concerned” about this threat. The hacker may disable home security systems, make online purchases using credit card information already saved, or even gain access to medical devices that are linked with the assistant.

Security issues arise when users are not at home because this attack can also be carried out by shining a laser through a window. In one instance, researchers were able to control a Google Home located more than 200 feet away from the window by sending light commands.

Has this actually occurred before?

The researchers, fortunately, stated that they are not aware of any instances in which an attacker has employed light commands to manipulate a gadget. Despite the fact that the study used this technique in a number of real-world situations, Pargman pointed out that it would be challenging to duplicate. “It takes just the right combination of a victim who has a lot of security gadgets connected through their digital assistant and a sophisticated attacker who would go through a lot of effort to break into a residence,” he says. The digital assistant must also be placed close to a window so that it can be seen from a spot where the attacker can set up their tools.

The authors of the study shared their results with vulnerable product manufacturers including Amazon, Apple, and Google in an effort to stop future attacks. Although users have been informed that such an assault is improbable, the firms have stated that they will look into the potential security vulnerability.

How to protect your iPhone

Are you worried about privacy? Pargman advises avoiding leaving your iPhone out where it can be accessed by strangers and keeping it away from windows to protect it from light instructions. According to him, a laser cannot be employed if there is not a direct path from the outside to the microphone. The same is true for other voice-activated devices, such as Google Home and Alexa.

Pargman advises users to carefully consider the privacy concerns of having a voice-controlled gadget in the house. Virtual assistants can be controlled by anybody, including children, house guests, and cybercriminals, so “be judicious about how much authority you give them over your security and the things you care about,” the author warns.

However, you may rest confident that there is still a slim chance that a laser will take over your apparatus. In Pargman’s opinion, readers are more likely to see this approach used in a spy movie or book than they are to actually come under attack.

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