Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

Smart Devices Are Vulnerable to 'Sonic Gun' Threat

Sonic weapons have been around for some time, but a new application could be cause for concern in the future. At the recent Black Hat Conference, researchers from Alibaba Security demonstrated how a sonic gun could disrupt many of the new smart technologies that have been released to the public and consumers.

The researchers were able to show how a drone could be taken down, a "hoverboard" could be disoriented, and robots made to fail, with the use of homemade ultrasound emitting systems. The researchers explained that the same technologies they targeted exist in self-driving cars and other devices, including smartphones.

What's a Sonic Gun?

The research on sonic weapons has been happening for a very long time now. However, applications have not really been used until recently. One of the more common uses involves the LRAD (long range acoustic device) cannons. Those are the big sound canons that get used against protesters.

While conspiracy theorists claim that there has been much more research on weaponizing sound against individuals, conventional wisdom and fact shows otherwise. No, sound cannons cannot make your head explode, but they can surely cause a lot of pain and discomfort, and even some serious damage.

How to Protect My Smart Devices

As of yet, there might not be much you can do to protect against a sonic attack, but that's partly due to a lack of history. How criminals would use sonic tech to disable or take over a smartphone, or other device, is only now being figured out, and the devices criminals would use to do so are still being developed.

One interesting fact the researchers noted was that the hard plastic shell on hoverboards prevented ultrasound emission from penetrating into the components that would be caused to fail. In order to force it to fail, the emission device was embedded inside the plastic housing of the hoverboard.

Sonic attacks target components like gyroscopes, accelerometers, and other sensors that can be affected by vibration. As such, a simple hard plastic case may actually help make your device more secure, depending on what a future attack might look like. The researchers are hoping their experiments and data will be used to make these new smart devices safer from a potential sonic attack. 

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