Enlarge / The frequency generator used to power researchers’ “sonic gun” at Black Hat in Las Vegas. (credit: Sean Gallagher)
LAS VEGAS—At the Black Hat security conference on Thursday, a team of researchers from Alibaba Security demonstrated how sound and ultrasound could be used to attack devices that depend on sensor input from gyroscopes, accelerometers, and other microelectromechanical systems (MEMS).

A sonic “gun” could in theory be used to knock drones out of the sky, cause robots to fail, disorient virtual or augmented reality software, and even knock people off their “hoverboard” scooters.
It could also potentially be used to attack self-driving cars or confuse air bag sensors in automobiles.
Many of the commercial gyroscope sensors in electronic devices are tuning fork gyroscopes—MEMS devices that use the vibrations of two “proof masses” to track rotation and velocity.

But an outside source of vibration matching the resonant frequency of the gyroscope could interfere with the sensor’s stability and cause the sensor to send bad data to the device it is embedded in.
By tuning an audio signal to the resonant frequency of the MEMS sensors, the researchers showed that the sensors could be temporarily disabled or manipulated into giving faulty data.
In the process, this can cause the devices and software that depend on them to fail.
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