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As technology has become increasingly advanced, such as in headphones wherein standard wired headphones have switched over to utilize Bluetooth connection, hackers have also been evolving their ways to spy on people and plant malicious software on people’s personal computers.
Malware or malicious software can damage, interfere with, or steal data from a computer. There are different types of malware, such as viruses, worms, trojans, and many more.
While malware can be quickly passed on from one computer to another, since headphones do not store data, they are unable to transmit malware or keep them. In addition, headphones cannot communicate malware because they do not run on any operating system and are not connected to the internet; there is no way for them to transmit malware. However, new studies have shown that a certain Speake(a)r malware can hack your audio chip to record conversations.
This article will tackle what malware is, the different types of malware, whether headphones can receive and transmit malware, and many more.
Let’s get right into it.
Table of Contents
What is Malware?
Malware is a software program used by a device to harm it or steal data. Malware can be categorized in many different types. Malware exists in various types, such as viruses, spyware, Trojan, worms, and adware.
For your computer to stop the spread of malware, it must be detected and treated appropriately using anti-malware software. A classification of a program as malware varies by the developer’s intentions rather than the technology used to construct it.
Here are the different types of malware and what they exactly do.
Spyware or spy bugs
Spyware is a malicious software that spies on you, the user. Spyware or spy bugs can keep track of your browsing history, bank and credit card accounts, social media passwords, and other vital personal information.
Viruses are perhaps the most common of all the malware types. In fact, most people refer to malware as viruses. A virus is one of the most cunning malicious software as they hide and attach itself to a clean file. Just like a virus in the medical world, once the clean file is opened, the virus is then able to spread quickly to the computer infecting other clean and legitimate files.
Since viruses hide in clean files, pinpointing them is almost impossible. And because of this, viruses can infect nearly every computer. A virus can also be transmitted via USB flash drives.
Ransomware is malicious software that can access your hard drive and other files and lock them with a malicious code. To gain access to your essential files, hackers will demand a payment in bitcoin, giving you a decryption key that will allow you to open your computer.
Adware or advertisement software is most commonly seen on illegal streaming or adult websites. These third-party sources place advertisements that will make you redirect to other websites with sketchy-looking products which might contain other malwares that are more dangerous.
Trojans are perhaps the most dangerous malware type as they disguise themselves as valid programs but are coded with malicious commands that can completely destroy your computer’s digital data and your computer in general.
Trojans can infect computers and phone devices as well. While they can be dangerous, a good thing to remember is that they can be easily prevented by the Windows protector feature or by installing anti-malware programs on the play store or other legitimate websites.
How can malware infect devices?
Here are some common ways that malware can infect your devices.
Spam emails are something that you might have probably encountered once when you opened your emails. Spam emails are messages sent to you by hackers, mainly containing an attachment. Once you click on them, it takes you to a dummy site; this is then considered the hacker’s attack vector.
Once you click on the attachment, you will then be prompted to download and install a program that is ridiculed with malware. To prevent spam emails from infecting your device, don’t open emails with bad grammar or ones with an attached link to it.
It’s also good that Google has made interventions regarding this and has ways to warn you that a specific email contains malware.
Removable drives such as USB sticks and hard drives can also be a point of entry for malware. Worms and viruses can be installed and run automatically once inserted into your USB port.
The best way to prevent this is not to let suspicious hard drives or USB sticks insert into your computer. Like Google, Windows has also looked into this issue and will warn you if a removable drive is infected with any malware type.
Installing programs from a suspicious website
Most of us have installed pirated games and programs, but did you know that this makes your computers vulnerable to malware?
If you are installing from third party sources or compromised web pages, there is a high probability that the program you are planning to install might also contain malware.
To prevent this from happening, ensure only installing programs from legitimate sources or its official website.
Can headphones be infected with viruses?
Wireless headphones (like the ones you use for watching TV) are entirely safe from any malicious virus out there. Since there is no possible way for Bluetooth headphones to transmit Malware via Bluetooth connection, your headphones are safe and sound from any malicious software.
Both wired and wireless headphones cannot be infected with any virus because they don’t have enough storage, don’t operate with an operating system, and only transmit audio. And since audio is not something that hackers can tap into, you can safely use your study headphones and other types of headphones without the risk of them getting damaged by malware.
Can my wireless earbuds be infected with viruses?
Like Bluetooth headphones, wireless earbuds are unable to run programs as computers do, are not connected to the internet, don’t need to be installed with a program, or need an operating system to function; then, there is no possible way to infect wireless earbuds with a virus or any malware.
Can viruses be transmitted through headphones?
While wired and wireless headphones are vulnerable to hacking, they cannot transmit malware because they can’t store data. Even the 3.5 mm audio jack (and even the 1/4 jacks) cannot transfer analog data, so they can’t send malware from one device to another.
However, suppose you use a USB port (and not 3.5mm) to connect your headphones, which uses digital data. In that case, a developer can capitalize on its vulnerability to create something malicious such as being able to record audio by tapping into your headphones’ microphone.
Although viruses and malware can’t be transmitted through headphones using a wireless connection, this does not mean that hackers cannot tap into the headphone’s system.
Can headphones be hacked?
Researchers at Ben Gurion University found that headphones can be hacked and be utilized to bug and listen to conversations between people. Not only are they able to record audio, but they can also do this even without your computer audio being turned off.
The researchers named the software speak(e)ar, and this malware can turn the speakers of the headphones and make them act as a microphone to pick up the audio signal; using Realtek audio chips, the malware can record audio from 20 feet away and can compress the audio file and send it to anyone over the internet.
Although hackers can efficiently utilize the current tools available to hack into your headphones, this type of hacking is not the most profitable avenue for them. It is only ever implemented for high-profile targets.
The headphone types that are most vulnerable to this type of hacking are the headphones that use a wireless connection, more commonly known as wireless headphones. Bluetooth connections allow hackers to tap into any Bluetooth device.
Here are the ways that allow hackers to tap into your Bluetooth devices.
Bluejacking is a very low-threat hacking method that allows hackers to send unsolicited and malicious messages to one person by taking advantage of the Bluetooth connection loophole from Bluetooth devices near each other.
Bluebugging is the second most threatening type of hacking that exploits the vulnerability of Bluetooth connections. It allows the hacker to access your device’s microphone and speakers, which enables them to track or initiate phone calls, listen to conversations, and record them.
The good thing is that bluebugging only occurs if your devices are connected to the hacker’s device. However, hackers have also found ways to bypass this function.
Blueborne is the most dangerous Bluetooth hacking type among them all. Blueborne hacking allows hackers to control the computer’s output channel completely. And to make things worse, blueborne hacking does not need the device to be discoverable, and once they are in, the user won’t be notified, nor will they ever know.
Bluesnarfing is another type of hacking via Bluetooth connection, allowing hackers to steal private information such as your personal emails, texts, and contacts.
Hackers can implement this by exploiting the vulnerability of the object exchange (OBEX) protocol which is the main component that handles the info exchanged between Bluetooth-enabled devices.
What can I do to prevent hackers from hacking my Bluetooth headphones?
Now that you know hackers can tap into your Bluetooth headphones, you might be wondering what ways you can prevent hackers from hacking your Bluetooth headphones. Here are some ways:
Unpair and turn off your Bluetooth.
After you are done using your Bluetooth headphones that was once connected to your phone or computer, make sure to unpair the two devices to minimize the risk of them being hacked. In addition to this, always turn off your Bluetooth function if you are not using it, as hackers can exploit this when you leave your device on discoverable mode.
Unplug your standard wired headphones from our devices
Although wired headphones are relatively safe from viruses. Developers that helped create the Speake(a)r has shown that all headphones are not safe as they can hack into your headphone’s audio chip and gain access to your conversations.
So to make yourself completely safe from hackers listening to your conversations, unplug your wired headphones from your music-playing devices.
Download security updates
Downloading the newest security updates on your headphones will ensure that your headphones are well protected from malware.
Download anti-malware software
Anti-malware software is the first line of defense when protecting your devices against malware. Anti-malware software will notify you if ever it detects a severe malware threat, so be sure to download and install anti-malware software on your device.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can headphones be tapped?
Yes, professional hackers can hack and tap into both wired and Bluetooth headphones if they have the right tools and expertise.
Are Bluetooth headphones secure?
Wireless headphones are generally secure as it takes hackers a trillion tries before they can crack the 128bit key using brute force. However, the wireless connection from wireless headphones can be exploited by hackers wherein they can implement bluesnarfing, blueborne, bluebugging, and bluejacking on your wireless headphones.
Is leaving Bluetooth on safe?
No, leaving your Bluetooth function on all the time is not safe as it makes your Bluetooth-enabled devices discoverable by hackers, which they can use to access sensitive information like your contacts, messages, and audio recordings.
Is Bluetooth safer than wifi when it comes to malware?
No, internet connection from wifi is still far more dangerous as it provides hackers multiple points of entry to your devices. And since devices connected to the internet are easier to hack, tapping into your computer’s microphone is much easier than tapping into the speaker and mic in your Bluetooth headphone.
The advancement of technology has allowed devices like headphones to become more advanced and have many more features than just being able to play music. However, it also becomes easier for hackers to listen to your conversations and gain access to your private information.
Be sure to follow the tips listed in this article, and make your Bluetooth devices safe from the malicious intents of malware.