Could A Vacuum Cleaner be hacked? Robot vacuum cleaners can actually be remotely reprogrammed

The researchers emphasize that vacuum cleaners are just one example of potential vulnerability to Lidar-based spying. Many other devices could be open to similar attacks such as smartphone infrared sensors used for face recognition or passive infrared sensors used for motion detection.

“Unfortunately, we welcome these devices into our homes, and we don’t suspect them. We can repurpose the systems they use for navigation to spy on conversations and potentially reveal private information.” said Researcher

Nirupam Roy from the University of Maryland. "This type of threat may be more important now than ever, when you consider that we are all ordering food over the phone and having meetings over the computer, and we are often speaking our credit card or bank information," Roy said. "But what is even more concerning for me is that it can reveal much more personal information. This kind of information can tell you about my living style, how many hours I'm working, other things that I am doing. And what we watch on TV can reveal our political orientations. That is crucial for someone who might want to manipulate the political elections or target very specific messages to me."

These devices rely on light detection and ranging (Lidar) to help them roll around a room. The vacuum shines its laser throughout a room and senses the reflections as the beam bounces off walls and objects. The machine can then map out where to go and when to turn to efficiently clean a house. While this technology is great for a robot’s sense of direction, security experts have already sounded the alarm about where this information is being stored. The study reveals mapping information is often kept in the cloud. This means a privacy breach could expose information about a user’s house size. Roy suggests third-parties could gain unauthorized insight into the income level and lifestyle of unsuspecting vacuum users.

The team discovered that the robot’s laser signals can be converted into sound waves. The study explains that sound waves cause objects to vibrate. This actually triggers small variations in the light that bounces off of them. Since the 1940s, laser microphones have been able to convert these variations in light back into a sound wave. These devices, often used in spy operations, rely on the laser beam reflecting off a smooth surface like a window. With the help of signal processing software and machine learning systems, computers can accurately pick out speech and musical patterns from television shows the vacuum is eavesdropping on. The recorded signals were analyzed by deep learning algorithms designed to decipher human voices and TV show musical sequences, which they matched with 90 % accuracy.

"I believe this is significant work that will make the manufacturers aware of these possibilities and trigger the security and privacy community to come up with solutions to prevent these kinds of attacks," Roy said.

This research was partially supported by a grant from Singapore Ministry of Education Academic Research Fund Tier 1 (Award No. R-252-000-A26-133).

The research paper, Spying with Your Robot Vacuum Cleaner: Eavesdropping via Lidar Sensors, Sriram Sami, Yimin Dai, Sean Rui Xiang Tan, Nirupam Roy and Jun Han, was presented on November 18, 2020, at the Association for Computing Machinery, SenSys 2020.

Article Edited and Republished for CTen by Loveleen Kaur

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Material provided by University of Maryland. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Article links and author: Material provided by University of Maryland. O'Donnell -Chris Melore Rhiannon Williams