Hackers can steal data through PC fan vibrations

Researchers show how fan speeds can be regulated to encode and transmit sensitive data

Cyber criminals can exfiltrate sensitive data from a PC sat within an air-gapped system by using malware to manipulate the vibrations from internal CPU and GPU fans, it has emerged.

By exploiting ‘air-gap covert channels’, hackers can steal data from systems totally isolated from network connectivity, beyond tightly-controlled local networks. Such air-gapped systems are normally used by corporate or government networks, and computer systems used for national defence.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Breaching systems without physical or network access is a challenge, but researchers have proven that a PC’s internal fans, such as GPU, CPU or chassis fans, can be encoded with internally-stored data.

Computers are known to vibrate at a frequency that correlates with the rotation speed of internal fans. These vibrations can’t be heard, but can be felt on nearby surfaces, like a neighbouring desk.

However, it has been discovered that malware can be used to regulate the rotation speed of internal PC fans, the fluctuating vibrations from which can be encoded with sensitive data stored on these machines, according to Mordechai Guri, the head of R&D at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, as reported by ZDNet.

Academic research shows that vibrations generated by malware installed on an air-gapped system, which Guri branded as AiR-ViBeR, can encode binary information and modulate this over a low-frequency vibrational carrier.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

This can subsequently be decoded using the accelerometer built-into any smartphone. By placing the device onto a nearby surface, software can be used to reconstruct the manipulated vibrations back into meaningful data.

There are a host of methods that cyber criminals could deploy to steal data from air-gapped systems, ranging from LED indicators on hard drives to screen brightness variations. However, Guri’s latest research is the first proving that vibrations can be manipulated to successfully transmit sensitive data from machines in air-gapped systems.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Although this method is perfectly feasible, it’s not likely to be deployed in real-life scenarios due to practicality reasons.

The research team managed to achieve a data exfiltration rate of only half a bit per second through fan vibrations in a test run, suggesting cyber criminals are likely to look to other methods to seize sensitive corporate data.

Featured Resources

The case for a marketing content hub

Transform your digital marketing to deliver customer expectations

Download now

Fast, flexible and compliant e-signatures for global businesses

Be at the forefront of digital transformation with electronic signatures

Download now

Why CEOS should care about the move to SAP S/4HANA

And how they can accelerate business value

Download now

IT faces new security challenges in the wake of COVID-19

Beat the crisis by learning how to secure your network

Download now
Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/security/hacking/355774/nigerian-hackers-swindle-millions-of-dollars-from-unemployment-systems
hacking

Nigerian hackers swindle millions of dollars from unemployment systems

22 May 2020
Visit/security/hacking/355773/hackers-take-on-unsuspecting-airliners-exposing-customer-data
hacking

Hackers take on unsuspecting airliners, exposing customer data

22 May 2020
Visit/security/hacking/355749/hackers-targets-game-developers-with-advanced-malware
hacking

Hackers target game developers with advanced malware

21 May 2020
Visit/security/hacking/355738/security-service-of-ukraine-arrests-infamous-hacker-sanix
hacking

Security Service of Ukraine arrests infamous hacker Sanix

21 May 2020

Most Popular

Visit/security/34616/the-top-ten-password-cracking-techniques-used-by-hackers
Security

The top ten password-cracking techniques used by hackers

5 May 2020
Visit/mobile/5g/355712/nokia-5g-speed-record
5G

Nokia breaks 5G record with speeds nearing 5Gbps

20 May 2020
Visit/cloud/cloud-computing/355742/microsoft-launches-public-cloud-service-for-health-care
cloud computing

Microsoft launches public cloud service for health care

21 May 2020