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Nowhere to hide / Hacked off

When computer programmer, and former subcontractor for the NSA, Edward Snowden’s identity was revealed at his request, he said, “I do not want to live in a world where everything I do or say is recorded.” And regardless of our views on Snowden, not many of us would disagree with his statement, but the harsh and frightening reality is that there is a hacker attack every 39 seconds and 300,000 new malware created every single day.

How on earth do they know that?

We’ve all been there right? Remember that conversation you had with a friend about your upcoming skiing holiday, and the conversation about the best skiwear. You think no more of it, but as you surf the Internet the following day, you start to notice skiwear advertisements popping up everywhere. And do you ever get the feeling that some social platforms seem to know a little too much about you when you see ads appearing on your PC or phone related to what you’ve been watching on TV. So, what’s going on? Are our phones listening to us?

Phones have ears

Let’s look at an example. A malware company that’s been around since 2016 makes automated content recognition software that uses the phone’s microphone to listen to and record audio snippets from running television ads to see what you are currently watching – it can reportedly manage this even when your phone is in your pocket, or if the apps are running in the background. The data is then sold to advertisers, who use the information to learn more about consumers and target ads more effectively. Currently, around 1,000 game apps use this software, including apps targeted at children as well as messaging and social apps. Surprisingly maybe, the software is legal because it gets your consent before it starts tracking.

Hacked off

The massive increase in malware and Trojan horse viruses, makes the battle against the hackers seem futile. Their relentless assault makes it near impossible for us to protect our phones and data, no matter how careful we are. It seems that the only way to safeguard our phones from attack is by isolating them. And that is exactly what Brüel & Kjaer`s smart vault does.

Safe in isolation

This simple device prevents unauthorized remote listening via smartphone hacking in meeting situations or in an office environment. The Smartphone Security Vault was designed in cooperation with a German public authority concerned with mobile phone security, and who contacted Brüel & Kjær for help to produce a device that would prevent hackers from eavesdropping on conversations and misusing mobile phones. 

The resulting box or acoustic enclosure with its four slots for parking of smartphones, provides very high sound insulation and absorption thanks to its optimized construction. To augment the sound insulation, and ensure further enhanced security, random noise is produced inside the box once it is closed and activated. So, if the phone is recording in secret, the attacker who has access to it would only get a noise signal. The special noise signal is not digital noise and cannot be removed by algorithms from the recorded signals.

This noise is inaudible outside the box but masks even the loudest of conversations in the room from the phones inside. Green indicator lights on the front of the box show when it is safe to talk. While there might be other ways to enhance the security of discussions, such as RF shielding or turning the phone off, the true benefit of the box is that it doesn’t prevent the phone owner from receiving messages or calls. An event on any of the phones in the box is detected and a blue light indicates an incoming message or call. The meeting attendees can then decide whether to pause discussions, open the box and take the call or ignore it. Simple but effective.

Incidentally, just switching off a phone or setting it into flight mode will not help if your phone is hacked. It will still record without you noticing it.

In this world of the Internet of Things, where everything and everyone is always connected, it’s nice to have an option to disconnect and breathe.