>First, let’s take Conway’s assertion literally. Microwaves (the waves) can be used for certain types of imaging, as in radar, but a microwave oven can’t be used as a camera unless it literally has an outward-facing webcam onboard. No such microwave appears to exist. That’s in contrast to the case of the spying Samsung TVs, referenced by Conway, that each come with a built-in, internet-connected microphone.
>But what if we were to take Conway not literally, but seriously? Asked whether a microwave could be turned into not a camera, specifically, but a listening device, Stephen Frasier, a microwave imaging and radar researcher at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, let out several seconds of sustained laughter.
>“Unless it’s a voice-activated microwave oven connected to the internet I can’t think of a way,” says Frasier. Outside of a failed smart microwave Kickstarter, no microphone-equipped microwaves appear to exist. In fact, a quick check of major appliance manufacturers including GE, LG, and Samsung shows that internet-connected microwaves are a rarity. Even those that might exist in early-adopting kitchens would be far more likely to be conscripted into a botnet than used as a listening device.
>Let’s go for the full benefit of the doubt though, and assume that Conway meant microwaves as in literal radio frequency waves. Those can, in fact, be used for imaging and communication. Consumer microwave ovens use these same waves to heat food. Does that mean we’re onto something?
>Not quite. The whole purpose of those cooking devices is to hold the waves in, not let them out. “The actual oven where you put your food is what we call a cavity. It’s basically a closed box. Even though you can see through the front door, the microwaves can’t penetrate through that,” says Frasier. “Maybe if you’re licking the door you might get a little exposure, but they’re in there to cook your food.”
>Outside the confines of a kitchen appliance, microwaves can be used for surveillance in a certain sense; they’re useful for monitoring systems like air traffic control, meteorological radar, and satellite Earth observation. Spies have even used them to create microphones. But these are purpose-built bugs, just like any other clandestine listening device.
>“I can’t conceive of an effective way to do any of it from your microwave oven,” Frasier says.