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posted by mrpg on Saturday April 16 2022, @05:39PM   Printer-friendly
from the hush dept.

You're muted... or are you? Videoconferencing apps may listen even when mic is off:

Kassem Fawaz's brother was on a videoconference with the microphone muted when he noticed that the microphone light was still on—indicating, inexplicably, that his microphone was being accessed.

[...] "It turns out, in the vast majority of cases, when you mute yourself, these apps do not give up access to the microphone," says Fawaz. "And that's a problem. When you're muted, people don't expect these apps to collect data."

[...] They found that all of the apps they tested occasionally gather raw audio data while mute is activated, with one popular app gathering information and delivering data to its server at the same rate regardless of whether the microphone is muted or not.

The researchers then decided to see if they could use data collected on mute from that app to infer the types of activities taking place in the background. Using machine learning algorithms, they trained an activity classifier using audio from YouTube videos representing six common background activities, including cooking and eating, playing music, typing and cleaning. Applying the classifier to the type of telemetry packets the app was sending, the team could identify the background activity with an average of 82% accuracy.

[...] "With a camera, you can turn it off or even put your hand over it, and no matter what you do, no one can see you," says Fawaz. "I don't think that exists for microphones."


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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by TheGratefulNet on Saturday April 16 2022, @05:49PM (10 children)

    by TheGratefulNet (659) on Saturday April 16 2022, @05:49PM (#1237496)

    its called: disabled audio in BIOS and use external usb audio

    then, you unplug your audio when you want it to be gone.

    if you want analog, go with usb/analog (often a green and a red 1/8" jack). you can then mute at the analog level using old style analog mic; shunting the mic line to ground after a blocking cap is often a working solution.

    onboard devices like wifi and bt are also disable-able and I suggest doing that so you have full control over all your devices. when its unplugged, you know its off.

    --
    "It is now safe to switch off your computer."
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  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 16 2022, @06:20PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 16 2022, @06:20PM (#1237507)

    Except for when rouge software uses the speaker as a microphone... can be done in Windows with free software.

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by SomeGuy on Saturday April 16 2022, @06:57PM

      by SomeGuy (5632) on Saturday April 16 2022, @06:57PM (#1237513)

      This is very true. A simple speaker by itself can act as a crappy microphone. Try it some time, it works.

      Speakers with amplifiers, it depends on how crappy the amplifier circuit is. It may or may not leak enough of the signal back to be detected.

      Combine that with the fact that many "modern" sound chips allow users to configure which physical port is used for Mic, Line In, and Speaker, all without any regard for security. So, ANY OS with access to that chip feature can flip around speaker and microphone ports.

    • (Score: 2) by janrinok on Sunday April 17 2022, @11:27AM

      by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Sunday April 17 2022, @11:27AM (#1237693) Journal

      Does this apply to other colours of software too, or just the rouge colour?

      I think my speaker is black so I am assuming that I am OK.

  • (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 16 2022, @06:30PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 16 2022, @06:30PM (#1237510)

    onboard devices like wifi and bt are also disable-able

    In theory, yes. You have to sniff all the traffic in and out of your device to verify it. The only sure way is a physical switch or to cut the wire

  • (Score: 2) by SomeGuy on Saturday April 16 2022, @06:45PM

    by SomeGuy (5632) on Saturday April 16 2022, @06:45PM (#1237511)

    Exactly this. I have a nice analog microphone with a physical switch. Absolutely no question ever about what it is doing.

    Although it can confuse some conferencing participants as whatever conferencing software will not automatically show others that you are "muted".

  • (Score: 2) by coolgopher on Saturday April 16 2022, @10:54PM

    by coolgopher (1157) on Saturday April 16 2022, @10:54PM (#1237555)

    Or headsets with a hardware mute switch.
    I just fold up the mic boom on mine. The mixer didn't register any input after that, so I doubt zoom et al would either.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Immerman on Saturday April 16 2022, @10:55PM (2 children)

    by Immerman (3985) on Saturday April 16 2022, @10:55PM (#1237557)

    Webcam/laptop/etc. makers could easily do one better - just put a physical mute switch on the mic. Flip the switch, it physical disconnects the mic. The OS doesn't even have to know it happened. All the convenience we already have, with less confusion, and no possibility of being circumvented by hackers.

    There's lots of reasons to want to be able to turn off your mic and/or camera, I don't understand why virtually no one supports it. I mean it's literally as easy as adding a switch that severs a key wire, you'd think at least a respectable percentage of devices would try to appeal to the "I like my privacy" crowd.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 18 2022, @04:11PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 18 2022, @04:11PM (#1237933)

      But such a component might add 15 cents to the cost of the device! That is clearly unacceptable!

      • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Monday April 18 2022, @04:28PM

        by Immerman (3985) on Monday April 18 2022, @04:28PM (#1237939)

        And just think how much you could save selling empty toaster boxes instead of putting a toaster in them!

        I'd gladly pay $1 more for the functionality. Maybe even $10. And more importantly it would make for an easy decision between buying a laptop from Company A, rather than an otherwise similar model from a competitor.

  • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Monday April 18 2022, @01:41PM

    by Freeman (732) on Monday April 18 2022, @01:41PM (#1237899) Journal

    I much prefer the external usb audio card that I got. It has a on/off for mic and my headset has a on/off switch as well. My new little NUC, that work recently replaced my toasted all-in-one, has a tiny speaker hole in the chassis. There's no easy physical switch on that thing.

    --
    Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee"