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The sounds your hard drive makes can be used to steal data

By Shawn Knight ยท 24 replies
Aug 12, 2016
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  1. One of the most effective ways to keep a computer protected from viruses, malware or forms of spying is to create an air gap, a fancy term that simply means a system isn’t connected to the Internet or any type of local network.

    Of course, anyone with more than basic knowledge of computer security will tell you that isn’t enough. In 2013, for example, it was revealed that hackers could use inaudible audio signals to communicate with (and infect) PCs that aren’t connected to the Internet or other networks.

    Now researchers have developed a new method that uses a computer’s hard drive to create a unique acoustic signal that can be picked up by a nearby device specifically listening for such signals.

    The technique, called DiskFiltration, works by controlling the movements of the hard drive’s actuator, the small mechanical arm that moves around a drive’s platters so the attached heads can access stored data or write new data. Precisely controlling the actuator creates unique acoustic signals that can be used to wirelessly transfer things like passwords, cryptographic keys and other sensitive information to a nearby device with a microphone.

    As Ars Technica notes, the technique has an effective range of about six feet but can only operate at speeds of about 180 bits per minute. At that rate, it would take around 25 minutes to steal a 4,096-bit key.

    While techniques like this and others are indeed possible, their effectiveness in the real world is limited by the fact that you first need to somehow install the necessary malware on the target machine. Systems with high levels of security would make this rather difficult to do.

    Permalink to story.

  2. Greg S

    Greg S TechSpot Staff Posts: 988   +422

    And the fact that solid state drives are being used in data centers now too...
    Jamlad likes this.
  3. VitalyT

    VitalyT Russ-Puss Posts: 3,610   +1,899

    All the more reasons organizing your home network in a professional and practical way - use only SSD-s in your PC case, while keeping all hard drives in a NAS somewhere away from the PC.
  4. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,418   +3,434

    Ohh my word! I can hear an SSD salesman using this as their new sales slogan.
    SantistaUSA and wastedkill like this.
  5. Satish Mallya

    Satish Mallya TS Maniac Posts: 145   +108

    Spymaster: "what do we know about this man?"
    Spy, listening: *clickety click click*
    Spy: "Sir, he's making an online purchase for...a new hard drive"
  6. mcborge

    mcborge TS Guru Posts: 418   +270

    This could be easily foiled by tapping on the desk... or using the keyboard or using sound proofed case.
    wastedkill likes this.
  7. Evernessince

    Evernessince TS Evangelist Posts: 1,920   +1,115

    I'm sure they can figure out a way to make this work on any computer part with a power delivery system. Stress it just the right amount so that the coil whine is in the audible range that a recording device can take.
  8. SirGCal

    SirGCal TS Maniac Posts: 365   +136


    Sure, 'Try that on my SSD', etc. bla bla bla...

    It is still pretty darn cool effort that was done with a high level of skill. It is also too slow to be practical by any means (now).

    But I still have to say: Kudos to them.
    Jamlad and tuxbugy like this.
  9. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +419

    Interesting finding, I'm going to be exempt though, I have 5 physical spinning hard drives in my main PC.
  10. merikafyeah

    merikafyeah TS Enthusiast Posts: 84   +36

  11. Tweetysvoice

    Tweetysvoice TS Enthusiast

    I agree! Seriously thinking outside the box. For once. Kudos!
  12. NahNood

    NahNood TS Enthusiast Posts: 58   +19

    Or whistling while you work... Or singing in the shower... lol
  13. p51d007

    p51d007 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,258   +614

    My HDD makes no noise...SSD in the laptop :)
  14. mcborge

    mcborge TS Guru Posts: 418   +270

    Or playing the maraca's whilst tap dancing on bubble wrap!
  15. Pinkie Pie

    Pinkie Pie TS Booster Posts: 70   +30

    I'll have to keep a sharp eye out for strange people standing no more than 6 feet away from my computer.
    mcborge and cliffordcooley like this.
  16. TheBigT42

    TheBigT42 TS Addict Posts: 139   +72

    Total BS....They said the same thing about the Ethernet Activity light years ago.
    cliffordcooley likes this.
  17. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,418   +3,434

    Tell me about it! One blink or grunt would represent thousands of bytes. There is absolutely no way to piece data together from it.
  18. jack_alexander

    jack_alexander TS Member Posts: 18

    It seems from what I've been reading that no one in the entire planet has any type of privacy. The U.S. government alone has dozens of lists, many arbitrarily produced that are used to violate individual's privacy. The thing with dealing with computer privacy is an almost impossible to accomplish as some one some where will find a way to bust into your info. I would think it would be healthier to forget our paranoia and learn to live with crooks and thieves.
  19. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,418   +3,434

    I'm not sure learning to live with bullets flying around would be healthier.
  20. mcborge

    mcborge TS Guru Posts: 418   +270

    I don't think anyone who has had their bank account cleaned out or there identity stolen would see it that way... the minute you let your guard down, you become an easy target... just the kind of mark crooks look for.
    cliffordcooley likes this.
  21. jack_alexander

    jack_alexander TS Member Posts: 18

    With my tiny Veteran's pension I am not worth ripping off. And I know ways to replace that tiny pension in time for rent money!
  22. jack_alexander

    jack_alexander TS Member Posts: 18

    Three tours in Vietnam. I guess I'm just numb to what you describe as bullets everywhere. Besides I like calling the cops and telling them where and what caliber since I was in gunnery. As I explained below that even if my tiny Veteran's pension got ripped off I know how to replace it by rent time. Experience from the streets off and on. And not by criminal acts, I might add....
  23. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,418   +3,434

    The only reason we don't have that many bullets flying around, it the fact we are not trying to "learn to live with crooks and thieves".
  24. jack_alexander

    jack_alexander TS Member Posts: 18

    But they are everywhere, even in the government. Why worry about petty nuts and crooks? It will hurt your health both mentally and physically to be so paranoid. And I think we have digressed from the original subject at hand. My attitude comes from age and experience. I find that I'm a lot happier and healthier by not worrying about these things. I worry about what the criminal government we have is doing to us in subverting our rights (and keeping the world on the brink of nuclear destruction--I handled nukes in my earlier years and have been to one of our 'experiments' in Japan-history has shown every weapon invented will be used and that one has-what will the government backed nuts come up with next?), and I submit myself to the thought that nothing can be done, so why worry?
  25. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,418   +3,434

    Not worrying and completely letting your guard down because you are learning to live with evil, is two completely different things. I agree don't worry, but by all means keep your guard up. Don't just learn to live with it, or you will be the next victim for sure.
    mcborge likes this.

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