Professors from universities in China and the US are warning about the impending danger of “transduction attacks” on sensors deployed with everyday devices.

The term “transduction attack” has two meanings. First, the term “transducer” is another word for “sensor,” meaning a device that converts variations in a physical quantity, such as pressure or brightness, into an electrical signal, or vice versa. Second, “transduction” is a term used in genetics and defines the process by which foreign DNA is introduced into a cell by a virus or viral vector.

New attack vector for modern devices

In an article published in the Communications of the ACM magazine, two researchers from the University of Michigan and the Zhejiang University, warn that transductions attacks are a threat to modern-day sensors.

The two use the term to describe when an attacker is using external signals (such as sound, electromagnetic waves, electric signals, etc.) to trick a sensor into reading incorrect data on purpose.

For example, pointing an electromagnetic signal at a thermocouple’s temperature sensor can result in the device reading incorrect values if the attacker carefully constructs the electromagnetic waves in such a way that the temperature sensor reacts like it was reading another temperature.

The image below shows one such device reading an impossibly low temperature of -1409° F (-800° C, or 527° K), which is below absolute zero, the result of an obvious transduction attack carried out in a laboratory setting.

Software blindly trusts hardware

Researchers say the problem is that the software that reads data from the sensors…

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