Study: Hacking by Listening to Typing Sounds Now Possible

Category: Technology/Innovations


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. decipher / dɪˈsaɪ fər / (v) – to figure out the meaning of something that is difficult to understand

    You must create a complicated password that would be very hard to decipher.

  2. simulate / ˈsɪm yəˌleɪt / (v) – to imitate a situation

    The teachers hung various plants in the room and played a recording of different animal sounds to simulate a trip to the jungle.

  3. intercept / ˌɪn tərˈsɛpt / (v) – to secretly read or listen to a message meant for another person

    The police learned the suspect’s location by intercepting his calls to some of his friends.

  4. counter / ˈkaʊn tər / (v) – to fight against something

    A good anti-virus software can help you counter malware from the Internet.

  5. spy on / spaɪ ɒn / (phrasal) – to secretly watch or listen to someone

    The rivaling team learned our secret because the members spied on our meeting.


Read the text below.

A recent study has revealed that it is possible to steal personal information by listening to people type on their keyboards.

Researchers from the Southern Methodist University discovered that hackers have developed a new method that relies on keyboard sounds. This method can be done using the microphone of any smartphone. Through a smartphone mic, skillful hackers can pick up the sound of someone typing on a nearby computer. Then, they can examine the sound waves produced by the keys to decipher what words were typed on the keyboard.

To test the effectiveness of this hacking technique, the researchers simulated a meeting in a conference room where people discussed out loud and took notes using laptops. Eight smartphones equipped with an artificial intelligence app for detecting keyboard sounds were placed in the room. The phones were placed from three inches to several feet away from the laptops.

Results showed that the smartphones were able to intercept meeting notes from the participants’ laptops with 41% accuracy. It was also revealed that the technique could work even in noisy environments.

Following this study, the researchers warned that hackers may use the method to obtain computer passwords, private messages, and sensitive information. People who are vulnerable to this type of hacking include those who usually work in public spaces, such as cafés, libraries, and public vehicles.

To help counter attacks using this method, the researchers recommended using keyboard covers to soften or mute typing sounds. They also encouraged manufacturers to review their smartphone designs and ensure that hackers will not be able to take advantage of phone mics to spy on smartphone users.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• What precautions should people take after knowing that this hacking technique exists?
• Even though this technology was developed for hacking, do you think that it can also be used for a good purpose? Why or why not?

Discussion B

• Why do you think some people choose to study hacking? Discuss.
• What do you think should be the penalty for people who get caught hacking other people’s devices or personal accounts? Discuss.