TickTock; A Hardware Solution To Monitor The Microphone Monitoring You
Is The Name Intentional?
It’s not paranoid to worry if your devices are listening to you, for the answer is usually yes. As we have heard all too many times, apps and devices frequently ignore the setting to turn off the microphone when not in use and listen to the space they are in; recording conversations and the like. There has been no solution to this offered, unlike video which can be defeated in a number of ways, but that may well change soon.
A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore and Yonsei University in the Republic of Korea have come up with a way to determine if a microphone is active, albeit a somewhat clunky one. Their project, which they named TickTock, uses a near-field probe, a radio-frequency amplifier, software defined radio and a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B to determine if a microphone is active nearby. When a mic is active it emanates detectable electromagnetic signals which TickTock can detect and indicate a mic is active in your presence.
They envision shrinking this into a USB thumb drive which could be plugged into a laptop, or even a cellphone with an adapter, to let you know if you are being recorded. There’s no way to disable the mic via TickTock but you will at least know and can move out of range of it. It will also be interesting to see what name they choose if they do start selling the device, for while hilarious the chances of a lawsuit are fairly high.
The Register has more details, as well descriptions on how some companies have tried to reassure their customers they are not being eavesdropped on here.
Citing the increase in remote privacy attacks on laptop computers for surveillance, the five co-authors observe that while defenses have been developed for laptop webcams – e.g. a piece of tape, as favored by mark Zuckerberg – there's no analogous sound-blocking barrier to prevent surreptitious listening. Their solution amounts to a side-channel defense.