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“Lamphone” Hack Allows Hackers To Spy on People Using Lightbulb Vibrations
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“Lamphone” Hack Allows Hackers To Spy on People Using Lightbulb Vibrations

by Syed Hassan AlgadrieJune 19, 2020
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Researchers have uncovered a new method of spying on people by just interpreting the vibrations of a common household lightbulb. Dubbed the “Lamphone” hack, the method involves examining minute vibrations caused by a hanging lightbulb which are caused by the sounds in its environment.

The “Lamphone” hack is relatively easy to achieve and can be done from a hundred feet away. All the hacker or spy needs is a laptop, a decent telescope and an electro-optical sensor, fairly simple tools for a hacker to obtain. After the equipment has been set up, the hacker or spy can then proceed to place himself at any location near a window where the hanging lightbulb is located.

Demonstrating how Lamphone works

Image credit: Cyber Security Labs @ Ben Gurion University

The researchers with the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Weizmann Institute of Science explained that the “Lamphone” hack is easily the most reliable mode of sound frequency hacking. As explained in their research paper, there are three well-known methods typically deployed by a spy, the first method utilises radio signals sent from a victim’s room to recover sound. This is achieved by a network interface card that captures Wi-Fi packets sent from a router placed in physical proximity of a target/victim. The main disadvantage of this method however is that the data collected cannot be recovered as speech and can only interpreted via precollected list of words.

The second method uses a laser microphone which relies on a laser transceiver that is used to direct a laser beam into the victim’s room through a window. The beam is then reflected off of an object and returned to the laser transceiver which is then converted to an audio signal. The problem with this method however is that the laser beam can be detected using a dedicated optical sensor.

The third method exploits vibrations caused by sound from various materials in a room by using a Voice Microphone. This method uses a video camera that supports a very high frame per second (FPS) rate (over 2200 Hz) to recover speech and is a lot more difficult to detect as it is a totally passive method of hacking. The main issue with this method is that it takes a huge amount of time, usually hours to process even a few seconds of speech due to the complexity in rendering high FPS footage. Not to mention that a high FPS camera is expensive.

Lamphone Demonstration

Which brings us back to the “Lamphone”. To demonstrate this method, Ben Nassi and his team of researchers performed an experiment by placing themselves in an area 25 feet away from a target room with a hanging lightbulb.

"Lamphone" Hack Allows Hackers To Spy on People Using Lightbulb Vibrations 19

Image credit: Cyber Security Labs @ Ben Gurion University

The researchers then played sounds that they asserted could not be heard from their location by normal means. At the end of the experiment, they managed to interpret two songs; “Clocks” by Coldplay and “Let It Be” by The Beatles as well as a speech from US President Donald Trump.

"Lamphone" Hack Allows Hackers To Spy on People Using Lightbulb Vibrations 20

Image credit: Cyber Security Labs @ Ben Gurion University

You can watch the whole experiment done in the video below.

The researchers explained that there are little countermeasures against “Lamphone” as of now. They did however suggest a couple of approaches to prevent such an attack.

  • The first method would be to reduce the amount of light emitted by using a weaker bulb or by using curtain walls. These will significantly limit the light emitted from a room.
  • The next method is to use a heavier bulb which will help in reducing a hanging bulb’s vibration. Seeing that “Lamphone” relies on the fluctuations in air pressure on the surface of a hanging bulb which result from sound and cause the bulb to vibrate.

Pokdepinion: Wow this is kinda scary. I mean getting spied on with just the vibrations of a lightbulb? Bad enough our privacy is getting ransacked by our devices and now this. 

About The Author
Syed Hassan Algadrie
Just a guy who loves Star Wars, Transformers, tech, 90s nostalgia and all things geek. Is in a constant battle with procrastination.