Researchers have shown how music can trigger disease-causing bacteria.

Achamyeleh, Al Farooque and Baroua (left) conducted part of their research on the potential risk for negative pressure facilities in a proper cleanroom designed to prevent external exposure to dangerous microbes. Credit: Steve Zillius / UCI

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine have found that a safe operating negative pressure chamber — designed to protect outside areas in a hospital or biological research laboratory from exposure to deadly pathogens — can be disrupted by a lightly armed attacker. Instead of a smartphone.

Mechanisms that control air flow in and out of biocontainment facilities can be tricked into operating irregularly, according to UCI cyber-physical systems security experts who recently shared their results with attendees at the Society for Computing Machinery’s Computer and Communications Security Conference in Los Angeles. A sound of a certain frequency, perhaps hidden in a popular song.

“One can play music loaded on the smartphone or broadcast from a television or other audio device in the negative or nearby. Pressure class,” says UCI professor of electrical engineering and computer science Mohamed Al Farooq. “If the music matches the tone. Resonant frequency A pressure regulator failure in one of these areas can lead to the release of deadly microorganisms.

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning infrastructure allows fresh air to enter and polluted air to leave a certain area. HVAC systems in scientific facilities typically include room pressure monitors, which in turn use special pressure sensors that compare the atmosphere inside and outside the room.

Researchers have discovered how music can be used to ward off deadly pathogens.

A brief description of the attack model – a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Credit: Anomadarshi Barua and others

The researchers found that commonly used differential pressure sensors (DPS) are vulnerable to remote manipulation, posing a previously unknown threat to biosafety facilities. They tested their hypothesis on eight industry-standard DPSs from five manufacturers, showing that all devices operate at resonant frequencies in the audible range and are therefore susceptible to interception.

“When Sound waves Colliding with the diaphragms in the DPS, they begin to vibrate at the same frequency, says Anomadarshi Barua, a UCI PhD candidate in electrical engineering and computer science. Change the pressure reading and cause the whole system to fail.

He said attackers can defeat negative pressure chamber systems in a number of ways. You can use them wirelessly or, as a maintenance worker, place an audio device in or near such a room. “A more sophisticated attack could involve criminals incorporating noise-generating technologies into DPS prior to installation in a biocontainment facility,” Barua said.

In their conference presentation, the researchers suggested several countermeasures to prevent musical attacks on biosafety facilities. Sound dampening can be achieved by extending the DPS port sample tube up to 7m. The team proposed enclosing the pressure port in a box-like structure. Both of these measures will reduce the sensitivity of DPS, Baru said.

Al Farooq said this research project shows the vulnerability of embedded systems to random attacks, but stressed that with a little planning and forethought, facilities can be fortified against sabotage.

Joining Al Farooq and Baroua on the study was Yonatan Gezheh Achamyeleh, a UCI Ph.D. student in electrical engineering and computer science. The study is published as a part Proceedings of the 2022 ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security.

Additional information:
Anomadarshi Barua et al., A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing; Proceedings of the 2022 ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security (2022) DOI: 10.1145/3548606.3560643

Full paper (arXiv preprint) A wolf in sheep’s clothing: spreading deadly pathogens through popular music

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