Recently, robotic vacuum cleaners that can clean the house independently have become quite popular. Due to the fast pace of life, a little rest from housework did not bother anyone, so this vacuum cleaner is a really good solution. However, we should be aware that this seemingly harmless device poses a great danger and may even become a source of stealing our personal information.
A team of researchers has discovered that it is possible to tap a robotic vacuum cleaner so that it starts acting like a microphone and our conversations or all the sounds that are heard in the room are perceived and recorded.
Scientists, including Nirupam Roy, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Maryland, collected information from a robotic vacuum cleaner running a laser navigation system and tried to recover recorded sound signals to enable the program to be connected to a television room.
According to the researchers, any device that uses Lidar technology (a technology for determining the distance to different objects, which can do this with laser beam illumination, counting the wavelength of reflected light and estimating the return time of light), carries some risk because even though they do not have Microphone, they may still be used to record sound. The study, conducted in collaboration with Assistant Professor Jun Han, University of Singapore, was presented at a conference of the Computer Machinery Association on November 18, 2020. The main topic of the conference was built-in network sensor systems.
“While these devices do not use microphones, we can reshape their systems and use them to listen to people talk and collect other personal information,” says Roy.
The robotic vacuum cleaner uses Lidar technology – it illuminates the laser beam around the room and uses reflected light signals to map the room so that it does not collide with anything in motion.
Experts said that the map drawn by the robot is often stored on the cloud. This may violate confidentiality, as digital marketers can obtain information such as house size based on the data it collects, making it approximately possible to determine the amount of income of its owner. Using this data can also determine a user’s lifestyle.
Still the question is heard: how can a vacuum cleaner record sound without a microphone?
Of course, sound recording does not have to be understood in the literal sense. Sound signals cause objects to vibrate, and these vibrations cause the light that is reflected from these objects to vibrate. Laser microphones, which were used for espionage in the 1940s, can convert these vibrations into sound waves. In this case, the laser microphone is not mounted in the vacuum cleaner, however, Lidar technology was also sufficient to convert the sound signals.
The researchers explain that the vacuum cleaner is just one example of the vulnerability of Lidar-based technologies. Other devices running on this technology, such as the smartphone’s infrared sensors, which detect the owner’s face, or passive infrared sensors, which are used to detect motion, are also not protected from similar attacks.
“I believe this research is of great importance in today’s reality. It informs technology makers about the dangers that technologies running on Lidar may pose and also makes them think of new ways to solve this problem,” Roy said.