This homemade spy gadget can steal stray radio waves emitted by a laptop's processor

By Shawn Knight
Jun 24, 2015
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  1. palm-sized

    Researchers at Tel Aviv University and Israel’s Technion research institute have developed a device capable of wirelessly stealing data from nearby notebooks. The palm-sized gadget doesn’t hijack Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signals; instead, it captures the stray radio waves emitted by a system’s processor.

    The spy device, which cost less than $300 to build using readily available components, can work at a range of up to 19 inches away. The researchers are calling it the Portable Instrument for Trace Acquisition, or PITA, as the machine is small enough to fit inside a piece of pita bread.


    Once information is snatched out of the air, it can be stored locally on an SD card or beamed back to the eavesdropper via Wi-Fi. It’s so discrete that targets likely would never know their computer has been compromised.

    While the technology may sound cutting-edge, scientists have known for decades that computers leak sensitive information in the form of radio waves. Back in 1985, Dutch security researcher Wim van Eck was able to pick up radio waves from a CRT monitor and use the data to reconstruct onscreen images.

    Similar tactics were used by German and Iranian researchers in 2008 to gather data from wireless key fobs in order to unlock garage doors and even cars.

    The full research paper, Stealing Keys from PCs using a Radio: Cheap Electromagnetic Attacks on Windowed Exponentiation, is being presented at the Workshop on Cryptographic Hardware and Embedded Systems in September.

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  2. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Evangelist Posts: 3,370   +2,162

    Meh. I've heard stories from retired AF people talking about doing just this in the 70s but from airplanes.
  3. MilwaukeeMike

    MilwaukeeMike TS Evangelist Posts: 2,729   +1,093

    K, first off... PITA stands for Pain In The A$$. Secondly, that picture is not the device fitting inside of a piece of pita bread, it's just sitting on top of it.

    And what kinda of info do you get from the processor giving off radio waves? does it come in binary?
  4. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Evangelist Posts: 3,370   +2,162

    I don't know, but it better not be music.


    Record Industry Lawyer
    Skidmarksdeluxe likes this.
  5. tonylukac

    tonylukac TS Evangelist Posts: 1,291   +55

    I think even texas instrument calculators may have broadcast room conversations to neighbors.
  6. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 9,145   +597

    This is ambient RF from out systems. CIA and 'dark rooms' are shielded with fine copper mesh wire which is grounded JUST FOR THIS REASON. Goes way back into the 70s as noted above. Like our home wifi routers, the signals are all over the rf spectrum and decoding is almost as bad as breaking encryption.
  7. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 6,335   +1,937

    I don't know, but it had better be music.
    We can sue the pants off them

  8. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 9,145   +597

    The FCC ruled a long time back (50-60's) that anything in the RF spectrum is public and can not be assumed to be private/protected.

    With a range of only 19" you're concerned? This was a lab experiment, not practical CIA development of new 'bug' technologies.
  9. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 6,335   +1,937

    Aha! But the FCC is an American organisation. Non Americans don't have to listen to what they mumble about.
    jobeard likes this.
  10. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 9,145   +597


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