Risk

Researchers Find New Ways To Eavesdrop Via Mobile Devices

'Bugbots' could enable listeners to tap other users' devices to overhear conversations, study says

Cell phones and other handheld devices could become a great way to listen in on spoken conversations, researchers at George Mason University said this week.

In a paper (PDF), researchers Ryan Farley and Xinyuan Wang describe several new plays on the concept of "microphone hijacking," which has been used for years. The idea is to put spyware on mobile devices -- including laptops, cell phones, and PDAs -- that can use their built-in microphones to eavesdrop on nearby conversations.

In the past, this eavesdropping has usually been done via the victim's own cell phone or other device. But Farley and Wang describe a way to bug nearby devices belonging to nearby users to achieve similar results.

Under the researchers' concept, called a "roving bugnet," the eavesdropper would use a piece of malware called a "bugbot" to listen in on in-person interactions via a nearby smartphone or laptop. Such attacks would be more likely to target specific people (such as an executive or a spouse) than as a broad attack, the researchers say.

Farley and Wang conducted experiments on Windows XP and Mac OS laptops. The researchers directed their bugbot to join an Internet Relay Chat channel so they could remotely enable and disable each laptop's microphone, streaming real-time conversations nearby. The same thing, they said, could be done on almost any smartphone.

"Remote surveillance is a significantly invasive threat, arguably even more so than identity theft," the paper says. "As it stands now, most vulnerable devices do not have the protection necessary to distinctly address microphone or camera hijacks. As a growing number of mobile devices with exploitable operating systems gain more reliable Internet access, this longstanding problem is reaching a critical potential."

The paper also describes methods for detecting and mitigating remote surveillance attacks, including the use of a convincing, recorded audio loop that could help keep the attacker online longer in order to help track him down.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Government Shutdown Brings Certificate Lapse Woes
Curtis Franklin Jr., Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  1/11/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
The Year in Security 2018
This Dark Reading Tech Digest explores the biggest news stories of 2018 that shaped the cybersecurity landscape.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises Are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How Enterprises Are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Data breach fears and the need to comply with regulations such as GDPR are two major drivers increased spending on security products and technologies. But other factors are contributing to the trend as well. Find out more about how enterprises are attacking the cybersecurity problem by reading our report today.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2018-20735
PUBLISHED: 2019-01-17
** DISPUTED ** An issue was discovered in BMC PATROL Agent through 11.3.01. It was found that the PatrolCli application can allow for lateral movement and escalation of privilege inside a Windows Active Directory environment. It was found that by default the PatrolCli / PATROL Agent application only...
CVE-2019-0624
PUBLISHED: 2019-01-17
A spoofing vulnerability exists when a Skype for Business 2015 server does not properly sanitize a specially crafted request, aka "Skype for Business 2015 Spoofing Vulnerability." This affects Skype.
CVE-2019-0646
PUBLISHED: 2019-01-17
A Cross-site Scripting (XSS) vulnerability exists when Team Foundation Server does not properly sanitize user provided input, aka "Team Foundation Server Cross-site Scripting Vulnerability." This affects Team.
CVE-2019-0647
PUBLISHED: 2019-01-17
An information disclosure vulnerability exists when Team Foundation Server does not properly handle variables marked as secret, aka "Team Foundation Server Information Disclosure Vulnerability." This affects Team.
CVE-2018-20727
PUBLISHED: 2019-01-17
Multiple command injection vulnerabilities in NeDi before 1.7Cp3 allow authenticated users to execute code on the server side via the flt parameter to Nodes-Traffic.php, the dv parameter to Devices-Graph.php, or the tit parameter to drawmap.php.