There are probably a dozen comic book villains who have weaponized the power of sound in some way, but up until now that’s always seemed like more of a concern to superheroes than to us regular people. Unfortunately, researchers at the University Of Michigan and the University Of South Carolina have discovered that they can “influence” certain kinds of devices using sound waves from a “malicious” music file. That means the groundwork is now in place for some renegade hacker to put on a goofy costume, call himself “Doctor Soundwave” or something, and start menacing the world by remotely controlling our gadgets.
Basically, the way this exploit works is by manipulating the accelerometers that are in pretty much every tech device these days, including phones, fitness trackers, and some cars. According to The New York Times, these researchers were able to create specific audio files that could control the accelerometer on a smartphone, which could then allow them to take over things paired with that phone’s accelerometer. The story mentions that “an app used to pilot a radio-controlled toy car” could be compromised by something like this, but if that’s not nefarious enough for you, The New York Times also suggests that someone could manipulate a machine that uses an accelerometer to automate a diabetic patient’s insulin dosage, which would be an extremely supervillain-esque way to quietly murder someone.
The researchers even use the phrase “musical virus” to explain what they were able to do, but they don’t want people to think this is some horrifying new threat to their safety. Instead, they’re positioning this information as a “revealing window into the cybersecurity challenges inherent in complex systems in which analog and digital components can interact in unexpected ways.” Until Doctor Soundwave takes over the world by using his musical virus to turn everybody’s cell phones into tiny drones, of course.