We all rely on technology to get things done nowadays. From simple household chores, school assignments, work research, entertainment, and so much more, technology is at its core. So, it is not unusual to find a computer or other smart gadget in every home these days. These gadgets are far becoming more of a necessity than the luxury that it once was.
While most of us may own a computer or a laptop today, it does not mean that we are all tech-savvy when it comes to using it. We may know how to navigate the web and perform basic and some semi-advanced computer functions but it does not necessarily mean we can fix our computer once it gets broken because more often than not, we don’t. Only experts have extensive computer hard drive know-how. It involves familiarization with various technical processes and terminologies that one learns from in school.
However, as we increase our computer use, we become more vulnerable to hacking and scamming threats. Now, are you capable of protecting your computer and yourself from cyber criminals?
Researchers at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) Cyber Security Research Center have demonstrated that data can be stolen from an isolated “air-gapped” computer’s hard drive reading the pulses of light on the LED drive using various types of cameras and light sensors.
In the new paper, the researchers demonstrated how data can be received by a Quadcopter drone flight, even outside a window with line-of-sight of the transmitting computer.
Air-gapped computers are isolated — separated both logically and physically from public networks — ostensibly so that they cannot be hacked over the Internet or within company networks. These computers typically contain an organization’s most sensitive and confidential information.
Led by Dr. Mordechai Guri, head of R&D at the Cyber Security Research Center, the research team utilized the hard-drive (HDD) activity LED lights that are found on most desktop PCs and laptops. The researchers found that once malware is on a computer, it can indirectly control the HDD LED, turning it on and off rapidly (thousands of flickers per second) — a rate that exceeds the human visual perception capabilities. As a result, highly sensitive information can be encoded and leaked over the fast LED signals, which are received and recorded by remote cameras or light sensors.
And while all of us are hooked on social media and busy stalking other people on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, etc., cyber criminals are also busy finding ways to make more money at the expense of stealing someone’s information and making profits out of it. And more often than not, these things happen without us knowing.
Now the lab’s team has found yet another way to undermine air-gapped systems using little more than the sound emitted by the cooling fans inside computers. Although the technique can only be used to steal a limited amount of data, it’s sufficient to siphon encryption keys and lists of usernames and passwords, as well as small amounts of keylogging histories and documents, from more than two dozen feet away. The researchers, who have described the technical details of the attack in a paper (.pdf), have so far been able to siphon encryption keys and passwords at a rate of 15 to 20 bits per minute—more than 1,200 bits per hour—but are working on methods to accelerate the data extraction.
“We found that if we use two fans concurrently [in the same machine], the CPU and chassis fans, we can double the transmission rates,” says Guri, who conducted the research with colleagues Yosef Solewicz, Andrey Daidakulov, and Yuval Elovici, director of the Telekom Innovation Laboratories at Ben-Gurion University. “And we are working on more techniques to accelerate it and make it much faster.”
Important data stored on your computer’s hard drive is not as safe as what we want to make ourselves believe in. Hackers and scammers have found various ways to do this right under our noses. What you may think of as an innocent sound made by your CPU’s fan is actually your data being stolen right in front of you. You’d be surprised at the capacity of viruses and malware to infect your computer and steal valuable personal information.
So, as a precaution, install anti-virus software or web application firewalls to prevent damaging malware from infecting your system. Or, just be more cautious on the sites you visit and avoid installing cookies as much as possible. You’d be surprised how a little common sense can go a long way. Even though technology may be too much for your simple brain, the web is a rich resource of what-to-dos and whatnots for virtually all questions you can think of.