DOI Bookmark: http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/SP.2018.00004
S Abhishek Anand , University of Alabama at Birmingham
Nitesh Saxena , University of Alabama at Birmingham
According to recent research, motion sensors available on current smartphone platforms may be sensitive to speech signals. From a security and privacy perspective, this raises a serious concern regarding sensitive speech reconstruction, and speaker or gender identification by a malicious application having unrestricted access to motion sensor readings, without using the microphone. In this paper, we revisit this important line of research and closely inspect the effect of speech on smartphone motion sensors, in particular, gyroscope and accelerometer. First, we revisit the previously studied scenario (Michalevsky et al.; USENIX Security 2014), where the smartphone shares a common surface with a loudspeaker (with subwoofer) generating speech signals. We observe some effect on the motion sensor signals, which may indeed allow speaker and gender recognition to an extent. However, we also argue that the recorded effect on the sensor readings is possibly from conductive vibrations through the shared surface instead of direct acoustic vibrations due to speech as perceived in previous work. Second, we further extend the previous work by analyzing the effect of speech produced by (1) other less powerful speakers like the in-built laptop and smartphone speakers, and (2) live humans. Our experiments show that in-built laptop speakers were only able to affect the accelerometer when the laptop and the motion sensor shared a surface. Smartphone speakers were not found to be powerful enough to invoke a response in the motion sensors through aerial vibrations. We also report that in the presence of live human speech, we did not notice any effect on the motion sensor readings. Our results have two-fold implications. First, human-rendered speech seems potentially incapacitated to trigger smartphone motion sensors within the limited sampling rates imposed by the smartphone operating systems. Second, it seems that even machine-rendered speech may not be powerful enough to affect smartphone motion sensors through the aerial medium, although it may induce vibrations through a conductive surface that these sensors, especially accelerometer, could pick up if a relatively powerful speaker is used. Overall, our results suggest that smartphone motion sensors may pose a threat to speech privacy only in some limited scenarios.