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Smartphones steal data through sound waves

As part of a student experiment at the University at Buffalo in New York, a regular smartphone was used to hack a 3D printer by manipulating its security vulnerabilities. This was not a simulated cyberattack. The study wanted to reveal the vulnerabilities in the product and how they could be easily exploited by a hacker.

“Many companies are betting on 3-D printing to revolutionize their businesses, but there are still security unknowns associated with these machines that leave intellectual property vulnerable,” said Wenyao Xu, PhD, assistant professor in UB’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and the study’s lead author.

The smartphone was planted approximately 20 centimeters from the printer. Its built-in sensors captured the electromagnetic energy and the acoustic waves from the printer. By intercepting the moves of the printer, the researchers could easily recreate the objects with almost 100 percent accuracy. Some 80 percent of the significant data was collected from intercepting the electromagnetic waves.

“Smartphones are so common that industries may let their guard down, thus creating a situation where intellectual property is ripe for theft,” added Chi Zhou, co-author of the study.

However, the further the smartphone, the lower are the chances for the information to be collected. Researchers found that, once the distance increases to 30 centimeters, the accuracy of the data goes down to 87 percent, and to 66 percent when placed 40 centimeters from the printer.

About the author


From a young age, Luana knew she wanted to become a writer. After having addressed topics such as NFC, startups, and tech innovation, she has now shifted focus to internet security, with a keen interest in smart homes and IoT threats. Luana is a supporter of women in tech and has a passion for entrepreneurship, technology, and startup culture.