Leaving your phone on a table might not be so safe any more thanks to a new attack developed by a team of researchers from Michigan State University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. The new attack is called the SurfingAttack and it works with the vibrations on a table to hack into your phone.
Yes, you read that right. Now, you might need to worry about the table you sit at.
"SurfingAttack exploits ultrasonic guided wave propagating through solid-material tables to attack voice control systems. By leveraging the unique properties of acoustic transmission in solid materials, we design a new attack called SurfingAttack that would enable multiple rounds of interactions between the voice-controlled device and the attacker over a longer distance and without the need to be in line-of-sight," reads the new attack's website.
"By completing the interaction loop of inaudible sound attack, SurfingAttack enables new attack scenarios, such as hijacking a mobile Short Message Service (SMS) passcode, making ghost fraud calls without owners' knowledge, etc."
The attack's hardware is relatively easy to get your hands on and consists mainly of a $5 piezoelectric transducer. This device can generate vibrations that fall outside the range of human hearing but that your phone can pick up.
In that way, it triggers your phone's voice assistant. This might not seem like such a big deal until you realize that voice assistants can be used to place long-distance calls or to read text messages where you receive authentification codes.
The hack is also constructed so that you won't notice your voice assistant betraying you. The volume on your phone will have been reduced as SurfingAttack also has a microphone that can hear your mobile at the lowest of volumes.
There are ways however to prevent such attacks. The research found that thicker table cloths stopped the vibrations and so did heavier smartphone cases. Time to invest in a new beefy case!