Siri and Pixel can listen better than humans produce sound, research proved vulnerability

The studies and experiments of Washington University in St. Louis found out that voice assistants can listen far wider than humans can produce. According to their experiments, the voice assistant can listen to the inaudible vibration even if they are at the distance of 30 feet away at the tabletop.

The researchers used

1) Software

2) Ultrasonic generator

3) Piezoelectric transducer, and

4) Microphone

Software was used to produce waveform whereas the ultrasonic generator’s purpose was to take the signals out, Transducer converted the electrical signals into vibration whereas the microphone was used to listen to the response of voice assistant- Siri and Google Pixel.

The researchers experimented at different places in which the signals were sent to a voice assistant to reduce the volume of the phone or device and read the given task after passing the authentication code. However, results said that the experiment was successful if signals were passed through hard surfaces up-to 30 feet but the experiment was not successful when passed through softer material.

A demo posted on YouTube shows that Google Pixel was reading the text and authentication after getting the signals from speakers that were attached at the tabletop and connected to the laptop.



Besides, the theory says that co-workers could send commands from the laptop of one worker to another if the piezoelectric speaker would be attached to the conference table’s bottom.


This is an attack which is named as Surfing Attack. This Surfing Attack let attackers and device to interact without letting the owner of the device to know about it. However, as the researchers report says it is vulnerable because the attacker could hijack SMS, make ghost calls, passcodes while keeping the owner unaware.

Yet, Ning Zhang - professor and leader of the research team, said that Surfing Attack would not be used a lot but it will be used for a specific targeted attack. He ensured that the hardware used in the experiment were alternatives. Besides, he said that people could make their own DIY generator because the signal generator is expensive and bulky.

Although, the attack is making the world insecure, there are ways to protect your phone. The researchers said that curved surfaces make it not possible to send signals. Therefore, people are advised to cover a phone in woven fabric or cover it or make its cover with different and thick materials like wood. Moreover, it is advised to keep the phone locked.

Wood, metal, and glass were successful surfaces. The research was executed by Qiben Yan, Hanqing Guo, Kehai Liu, Qin Zhou, and Ning Zhang.

Qiben Yan and Hanqing Guo accomplished research in SEIT Lab, whereas Kehai Liu carried it out at the Chinese Academy of Science while the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Washington University had Qin Zhou and Ning Zhang. The research paper was posted on the university site.

Read next: New Android Malware Might Steal Google Authentication Codes

Featured photo: Picture alliance via Getty Images

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