Hackers Can Detect What You’re Typing By Listening To You Type

Even smartphones are vulnerable against this kind of a hack where sounds from keypads can be used to snoop.

Published
Tech News
4 min read
Hackers can listen to keystrokes and figure out text with 41 percent accuracy.
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What you're about to read in the next 4-5 minutes might look like something out of a sci-fi spy movie and many of you might even turn your backs to some of the claims made by certain research organisations.

No, they haven't perfected a flight suit yet, but they have found a way to know what you're typing on a the keyboard or even your smartphone just by listening to you type!

How Is It Done?

Nope, that’s not how you “listen” to a keyboard.
Nope, that’s not how you “listen” to a keyboard.
Photo: The Quint

A recent study by the Southern Methodist University found that researchers were able to predict what people were typing on their keyboards just by listening to the sound the keys made.

According to the Mail Online, researchers re-created a real-life office environment with ambient noise and all the distractions that come with it and asked some of the volunteers to type a few words on their computers.

By using the microphones of smartphones placed on the same table, researchers were able to analyse and predict what the volunteers were typing with 41 percent accuracy.

Also, the researchers were also able to figure out if the test subjects were using the space bar or making corrections using the backspace key and believe they can refine the process further to make more accurate predictions.

This method could be used to hack banking passwords and sensitive user information, the researchers cautioned.

To get a better sense of what this could be like, the Hollywood movie “Eagle Eye” shows a rogue AI trying to eavesdrop on a conversation happening in a soundproof room with no communication devices inside. It finds a cup of coffee as a source to detect vibrations and then deciphers what the conversation is about. Check out the video:

How Hackers Can Use This Technique?

According to the Wall Street Journal, there’s an emerging body of research which shows that it is easy for hackers to pick up passwords, pins, and more just from the acoustic patterns of typing.

The above experiment was conducted using smartphones which had their microphones activated by default. The hacker could gain access to the microphone of the phone or any hardware that has a mic and then detect the vibrations and decipher the sounds later.

Some of the challenges for a hacker would be to know the material of the surface the user is typing on because the acoustics from a wooden table would be different from that of a metal one.

The hacker would also have to know the location of the phone on the table and if there are multiple sources recording the sound.

Not only that, according to a report in Forbes, researchers have developed a tool that can hack Skype and then use its microphone to listen to the sound of the keyboard when the user is typing.

Dubbed Skype&Type, the program has the ability to detect specific frequencies that match each of the keys on the keyboard. I get it. It’s a bit tough to swallow.

Smartphones Aren’t Spared

To make things worse, it has been found that even smartphones have a similar vulnerability.

As per a story published on Brobible, acoustic signals and sound waves produced while typing texts on the keypad of a smartphone can also be used to decipher sensitive information.

An attack of this magnitude can occur if a user has accidentally downloaded a malware which can relay information to the hacker by granting them access to the phone’s sensors like the microphones, accelerometers and gyroscopes.

The Anti-Hack

Smartphone microphones are used to pick up keystrokes.
Smartphone microphones are used to pick up keystrokes.
Photo: The Quint

A hack like this is not easy to detect which is why it is even more difficult to counter. However, researches believe that something as simple as a table cloth can help block vibrations that get relayed back to the smartphone.

This is a wake up call for smartphone makers to bolster smartphone security and ensure that sensors and microphones do not get hacked easily.

As for smartphone users, it is advised that they turn the keypad sound option off in settings, which will stop the clicking sound when you type on the phone.

Last but not the least, be aware of your surroundings when you are using electronic devices that have sensitive information on them. You know how they say: Even the walls have ears.

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