Russell Handorf

The Ears of a Hacker: Enumeration by Sound – No Tech Hacking (pt. 2)

I previously wrote an article about Johnny Long’s latest book, No Tech Hacking. This book covers many points about security in the physical world from the perspective of a hacker by raising the question “What does a hacker see?” There’s another observation point that must be addressed, one that I call “What does a hacker hear?”

This question occurred to me while at a security conference when I heard a Microsoft Windows handheld device activate ActiveSync. I looked over and noticed that there was no tether in use, and speculated that the sync process must be occurring via Bluetooth. I quickly started a tool called hcidump and was astonished to watch the Bluetooth communication whiz by on the screen. I was astonished not because I was sniffing a Bluetooth communication, but in what triggered my curiosity: the sound of ActiveSync starting.

I paid more attention to the electronic devices that were buzzing in the ether of background noises. I heard startup and shutdown sounds, cell phone ring tones, and a plethora of other device specific sounds. If you recall, all Microsoft Windows operating systems have their own unique startup and shutdown sounds; the same applies to other operating systems such as Linux. By listening, I know what kinds of exploits to run against your platform, and when to run them. As for cell phones, cellular carriers and cell phone manufacturers copyright the ring tones that are installed and in use on those devices. By listening to your cell phone ringing, I can probably determine with some accuracy the cell phone model and who you use for your cellular provider.

Hacking by sound presents and interesting question; is it worthwhile to present disinformation by intentionally using other devices startup sounds? It would certainly be intriguing to see if anyone begins to inspect a Linux device that has a Windows ME/2000 startup sound attributed to it. But on the other hand, we are all so inundated by the obnoxious sound pollution that is created by these devices that it mostly goes unnoticed. But the next time you’re at a conference, and the presenter asks you to set your device into vibrate mode, the end result may not be just a professional courtesy but a security countermeasure.

If you feel like reading more about this, you can take my “what does a hacker hear” challenge at the No Tech Hacking website: http://www.notechhacking.com

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