Scientists in Israel have found a new way to hack PCs to make them extremely vulnerable to releasing sensitive data encoded within. They use the whirring noises of hard drives. This new attack is called DiskFiltration, and it works on PCs that are completely disconnected from the internet. Usually, people felt that disconnecting computers would make them safer, but not so.
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"An air-gap isolation is considered to be a hermetic security measure which can prevent data leakage," Mordechai Guri, a security researcher from Ben-Gurion University, told Dan Goodin at Ars Technica. "Confidential data, personal information, financial records, and other types of sensitive information [are] stored within isolated networks. We show that despite the degree of isolation, the data can be exfiltrated (for example, to a nearby smartphone)."
Once a computer is infected, the information is encoded and relayed using the noises of the hard drive.
"[M]alware installed on a compromised machine can generate acoustic emissions at specific audio frequencies by controlling the movements of the HDD's actuator arm," the researchers write in their paper.
When you turn on your PC, your hard drive will make noises. Those noises are the platter spinning and physically engaging with the actuator. This noise can relay a code that malicious devices can "hear" and turn into another code.
"Digital Information can be modulated over the acoustic signals and then be picked up by a nearby receiver (e.g. smartphone, smartwatch, laptop, etc.)," the team explains.
This isn't the first time that researchers have shown this possibility. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine have been working on 3D printers that could reverse the sounds and make it harder to hack. Still, 3D printers themselves are susceptible to getting infected.
For most of us, using this type of hack against us wouldn't be worth it. The data transmission is incredibly slow so they can't relay tons of information.
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