Israeli researchers show you can steal data from a PC using fan vibrations and a smartphone

nanoguy

Posts: 746   +12
Staff member

Hackers who want to steal sensitive data from computers can sometimes get very creative with their methods, but most of the time they exploit bad security practices and software vulnerabilities to achieve their goals. Sometimes, hackers use popular tools of the trade to hack other hackers, but that skill level is relatively rare.

Researchers at the Ben Gurion University in Israel aren't leaving any stones unturned however. They've built a reputation of finding peculiar but feasible techniques for stealing data from so-called air-gapped PCs -- systems that are physically isolated with no Internet access -- without being detected.

Their newest technique called AiR-ViBeR started as an idea that you could theoretically use vibrations produced by electromechanical components like a CPU, GPU, or case fans in combination with special malware that is able to encode the data to be transmitted through direct manipulation of the fan speed.

In their proof-of-concept, the researchers used a smartphone placed on the same table as the PC to record the changes in vibration using the accelerometer, which is sufficiently precise in high-end devices like the Galaxy S10, which has a sensor with a resolution of 0.0023956299 meters per second squared.

One of the advantages of this method is that both Android and iOS don't request user permissions to read the output of the accelerometer in your phone, meaning there's no visual indication that something is going on in the background.

Furthermore, the attacker doesn't need to compromise the mobile device in any way, since this can achieved more elegantly via your favorite web browser using JavaScript. We know that this is feasible since it's happened in the recent past, when minorities in China were targeted on both mobile platforms through legitimate-looking websites that can fool the unsuspecting eye of the average user.

The researchers noted that while the method does result in reliable transmission of small packets of data to a phone that's up to 1.5 meters away from the PC, the speed is painfully slow. The case fan seemed to be the most effective source of vibrations, while the CPU fan was the least effective.

Real-life hackers may never consider using this technique due to its speed limitations, however the Israeli researchers headed by Dr. Mordechai Guri have tested several other attack methods that are significantly more effective. Examples include siphoning data from a computer using magnetic fields, listening for the sounds of a mechanical hard drive, and manipulating the screen brightness of a PC to achieve data transfer speeds that are orders of magnitude faster than AiR-ViBeR.

The most impressive effort so far is a variation of the classic LCD TEMPEST attack that can essentially reveal a grayscale image of what's on your screen.

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ShagnWagn

Posts: 1,297   +1,084
Fascinating ... I wonder how they filter out the vibrations when I rip one ... or is that just a bonus feature for them?

If you are a person who gets up on the desk whenever you need to float a biscuit, most likely. So eating beans and broccoli creates a more secure environment? We will try not to judge you. ;)
 

Angga B

Posts: 133   +114
Geezuzzzz... I actually laughing hard at this....
my lord... that kind of creativity....
it make this video about side channel attack obsolete so fast...

 

Gezzer

Posts: 119   +66
This news is pure impossible BS

No, it's possible. But it's so impractical that actually attempting it would be pure idiocy. You have to consider that all binary is is two states. So to transmit data all the receiver has to do is distinguish between two levels of vibration.

The biggest stumbling block would be how long it would take the fan to stably reach each level of vibration. So the receiver would have to have a delay built in to allow for this. Say for arguments sake 10 seconds to be certain. That means over a minute to transfer 1 byte of data. In the end it would take around 20 years to transfer 1 mega byte using this method.
 

theruck

Posts: 291   +134
No, it's possible. But it's so impractical that actually attempting it would be pure idiocy. You have to consider that all binary is is two states. So to transmit data all the receiver has to do is distinguish between two levels of vibration.

The biggest stumbling block would be how long it would take the fan to stably reach each level of vibration. So the receiver would have to have a delay built in to allow for this. Say for arguments sake 10 seconds to be certain. That means over a minute to transfer 1 byte of data. In the end it would take around 20 years to transfer 1 mega byte using this method.
Israeli researchers show you can steal data from a PC using fan vibrations and a smartphone
if you need a smartphone for then you have like 10 better ways to steal the data especially if you need a special malware to transmit the data :)
 

toooooot

Posts: 1,469   +736
Why goes through all of this when the most likely case scenario that somebody inside will steal the sensitive date and sell it to the "customer. Or a simpleton working at the company will install something malicious due to lack of desire to use his brain appropriately.
 

Athlonite

Posts: 225   +78
"in combination with special malware that is able to encode the data to be transmitted through direct manipulation of the fan speed."

1: How are you getting this "Special Malware" onto an air gapped pc
2: IF you have physical access to this PC which you'll need in order to install this "Special Malware" on an "Air Gapped PC" you don't really need the malware then do as you already have complete access
 

Capaill

Posts: 1,199   +743
Why goes through all of this ...
To show that it can be done. It's just a cool project from a university. Not an attack vector for an intelligence agency or hacker.
Once it evolves into something that can transmit hundreds or thousands of states instead of 2/binary states, perhaps transmitting sounds outside our frequency range to a hacked app on an always-on smart device like an Alexa, phone, TV or smartwatch, then the project gets more interesting.
I presume data could also be sent via an attached wireless charging pad although I don't know if a phone would be capable of reading it.