The Whole Truth About The Operation of The Mute Button
Agree, the years of the coronavirus pandemic have taught many of us not only to work remotely but also to use numerous benefits and tools for collaboration in the online space.
Interestingly, users are still concerned about security issues, because many understand that working from home, the main blow in cyberattacks will be aimed at their personal computer, which is not protected by a whole cybersecurity team.
In this regard, scientists from American universities decided to conduct a study on whether the microphone Mute button in popular instruments really does what it says.
What were the results and what do they mean? We will tell you in this article.
How to protect yourself from cyberattacks? Read more here.
Why did you check the Mute button?
In the era of conference calls and meetups from home, many began to use various Microsoft Teams services.
One of the most popular and frequently occurring situations is when you connect to a call in Mute mode, start talking, forget to turn off this mode, and the program reminds you that the microphone is turned off.
That is, the function cannot work if the microphone Mute button makes it basically impossible for it to work. And then how is this function actually implemented? And is the sound from the microphone sent to the server of the communication provider even in Mute mode?
During the research, it became clear that for real privacy, it is best to use a web client for conference calls.
All web versions of access to conference services were tested in a browser based on the open Chromium engine many browsers, such as Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge, are based on it.
Is Google a secure browser to use? Read more here.
In the high-performance mode, the services usually comply with all the established rules for working with the microphone, set by the developers of the browser engine.
If the microphone Mute button was pressed, the service no longer has access to it.
However, native computer applications have more rights. Let’s consider the scheme of such interaction on the example of a native application for conference communication with the Windows 10 OS.
As an analysis, data such as the time of interaction with the microphone and a comparison of the data obtained when capturing audio from the microphone with the information stream sent to the server were taken.
As a result, it became clear that each program will behave in its own way. There is no pattern of behavior for all services.
Next, let’s look at the most popular services and their ways of behavior.
The most frequently used online communication application for Zoom users does not capture the stream and does not hear what is happening in the office during the “microphone off” mode.
However, it is worth remembering that the service requests information that allows you to determine the noise level near the microphone. At the moment when silence turns, the service reminds you about disabling Mute mode.
This program does not use the standard system interface to work with a microphone, instead communicating directly with Windows. Therefore, the researchers were unable to obtain reliable information about the real behavior of the service during microphone disconnection.
Recently, we’ve already told you about the news of Microsoft Teams tools. Learn more here.
The third test subject was Cisco Webex. The program did not behave like the previous ones. She constantly processed the sound from the microphone during the call, regardless of the state of the Mute button inside the application.
After additional research on this service, the scientists concluded that Webex does not eavesdrop on the user, because in Mute mode the sound is not transmitted to a remote server. But metadata is transmitted, specifically— the volume level of the signal.
On the one hand, it may seem that there is no problem with this. Nevertheless, based on the learned metadata, it is possible to determine the number of basic parameters of what is happening at the client.
For example, you can find out that the user connected to an important work call, then turned off the microphone and camera and went to vacuum the apartment. Or cook. Or that the customer has a dog barking. In addition, you can understand in the service that there are other people in the room.
Such data were obtained thanks to an algorithm similar to the Shazam service, which determines what music is playing. For each “noise set”, a set of patterns is created, which is then compared with the data intercepted from the Cisco Webex client.
One obvious and indisputable proof can be drawn from the study: you do not fully control what data is collected about you and how.
Even though the evidence obtained is not entirely positive, it is worth noting that all the analyzed services are not dangerous or criminal. Many applications treat the use of the microphone as carefully as possible.
If despite these positive results, you are not satisfied with having a native application on your computer with constant access to the microphone, a simple solution is to connect via a web client, if possible. Yes, the functionality will be limited, but privacy will also increase — there the Mute button disconnects the microphone from the service.
In addition, you can always use the microphone mute button on your computer or even use an external headset with a microphone mute.
There are a lot of options to protect yourself. The main thing to remember is that the main danger lies not in the calls themselves, but in malware that eavesdrops on important conversations on your devices.
Protect your data using the most secure and anonymous decentralized Utopia P2P ecosystem.