Lend Me Your Ear: Passive Remote Physical Side Channels on PCs


Daniel Genkin, Georgia Tech; Noam Nissan, Tel Aviv University; Roei Schuster, Tel Aviv University and Cornell Tech; Eran Tromer, Tel Aviv University and Columbia University


We show that built-in sensors in commodity PCs, such as microphones, inadvertently capture electromagnetic side-channel leakage from ongoing computation. Moreover, this information is often conveyed by supposedly-benign channels such as audio recordings and common Voice-over-IP applications, even after lossy compression.

Thus, we show, it is possible to conduct physical side-channel attacks on computation by remote and purely passive analysis of commonly-shared channels. These attacks require neither physical proximity (which could be mitigated by distance and shielding), nor the ability to run code on the target or configure its hardware. Consequently, we argue, physical side channels on PCs can no longer be excluded from remote-attack threat models.

We analyze the computation-dependent leakage captured by internal microphones, and empirically demonstrate its efficacy for attacks. In one scenario, an attacker steals the secret ECDSA signing keys of the counterparty in a voice call. In another, the attacker detects what web page their counterparty is loading. In the third scenario, a player in the Counter-Strike online multiplayer game can detect a hidden opponent waiting in ambush, by analyzing how the 3D rendering done by the opponent's computer induces faint but detectable signals into the opponent's audio feed.

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@inproceedings {277248,
author = {Daniel Genkin and Noam Nissan and Roei Schuster and Eran Tromer},
title = {Lend Me Your Ear: Passive Remote Physical Side Channels on {PCs}},
booktitle = {31st USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 22)},
year = {2022},
isbn = {978-1-939133-31-1},
address = {Boston, MA},
pages = {4437--4454},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity22/presentation/genkin},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug,