'Lamphone' technique allows spies to target victims using lightbulbs for real-time eavesdropping

Researchers turn lightbulbs into microphones

Forget wiretapping -- researchers have developed a new way for spies to eavesdrop on targets using lightbulbs.

The technique is called “lamphone” and was developed by researchers at Israeli's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Weizmann Institute of Science. It uses a special sensor to analyze a hanging lightbulb’s frequency response to sound through fluctuations in air pressure that cause vibrations.

Using lamphone, attackers can recover speech and sounds from an individual in another location. The tactic, first reported by Wired, is said to only require a laptop, a telescope and an electro-optical sensor to carry out.

Unlike other spying methods, researchers note that lamphone attacks can be carried out in real-time and cannot be detected by targeted individuals. There are no “bugs” that need to be planted in the room, for example.

It is so accurate that the results can even be accurately transcribed by Google speech or recognized by Shazam (if the unsuspecting individual happens to be singing a song).

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In a test run of the technology, Shazam was able to identify the song “Clocks” by Coldplay playing in a room 25 meters away. Researchers were also able to recover President Trump saying “We will make America great again,” which was played over speakers and accurately transcribed by Google text to speech API.

Lamphone does, however, require a visible hanging light in the room. Targets could mitigate the effects of the process by using heavier bulbs, which would vibrate less, or weaker bulbs that emit less light for capture.

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Researchers said that there is the possibility that sound could be recovered off of other light sources, such as decorative LED flowers.