By Tim Wilson
May 26, 2010
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.
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