Researchers from Alibaba Security demonstrated at Black Hat 2017 a sonic hacking tool (via Ars Technica) that could attack your iPhone or Android device, as well as other devices. Products with microelectricalmechanical (MEMS) sensors like gyroscopes and accelerometers are affected, which means that anything from drones to air bag sensors in vehicles are fair game.
The sonic gun works by tuning an audio signal to the resonant frequency of the MEMS sensor, which can disable or manipulate the sensors into outputting false data. This inevitably causes the devices and software to fail.
Wang Zhengbo and Wang Kang from the research team demonstrated the tool onstage against the iPhone 7, Samsung Galaxy S7, VR headsets, a DJI drone, a Xiaomi hoverboard, and a toy robot. The team notes that the best long-term solution to their gun is the development of new MEMS sensors that could be resistant to sonic attacks. You can see the device in action in several videos.
The video below was included with the researcher’s paper, and shows their sonic gun interfering with an iPhone 7.
Sonic Gun vs. Robot Toy
Sonic Gun vs. L.I.U. MI Hoverboard
Because of the hoverboard’s thick plastic shell, the researchers had to physically press the sonic tool against it. That makes it unlikely the tool could be used as a long-range weapon in its current state. There’s little doubt, however, that criminal and state actors will try to build off this research.