A new experiment demonstrates how easily hackers can turn your headphones into a microphone to unknowingly eavesdrop in background.
Researcher designed a code called 'Speake(a)r, which 'retasks' a computer's outputs to inputs - allowing them to record audio even when the headphones were in the output-only jack.
The team used a pair of headphones to capture vibrations in the air and converted them to electromagnetic signals to record audio from 20 feet across a room.
Those who are sceptical about hackers attacking their systems and monitoring them will go through great lengths to keep them at bay.
One example is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who placed a piece of tape over his computer's camera because he's sure hackers are watching him.
But now we may soon see Zuckerberg forgo headphones all together now that it's possible for cyber-thieves to use them against him.
'The fact that headphones, earphones and speakers are physically built like microphones and that an audio port's role in the PC can be reprogrammed from output to input creates a vulnerability that can be abused by hackers,' says Prof. Yuval Elovici, director of the BGU Cyber Security Research Centre (CSRC) and member of BGU's Department of Information Systems Engineering.
Andy Greenberg with Wired explains that the team accessed a feature in the computer using the experimental malware - RealTek audio codec chips, which is a common feature in most computers and laptops.
This let them get inside the computer and reverse its output function to input, allowing them to eaves drop without ever behind spotted.
Researches say that this type of hack is so common that the attack works on almost every desktop no matter if it is Windows or MacOS – it is also possible to carry out on laptops.
During their experiment, the team used a pair of Sennheiser headphones and found they could capture audio in a room that's source was 20 feet away from the computer – even though they had completely removed the speakers.
The headphones had been transformed into the computer's speakers and converted 'the vibrations in air into electromagnetic signals to clearly capture audio across the room,' reports Greenberg.
Researchers also found it was possible to compress the recording and send it over the internet.
'This is the reason people like Facebook Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg tape up their mic and webcam,' says Mordechai Guri, lead researcher and head of Research and Development at the CSRC.
'You might tape the mic, but would be unlikely to tape the headphones or speakers.'