High security computers – devices which store the world’s most sensitive data, are usually “air-gapped”, which means that they are isolated from the internet. They are also not linked to other systems that are connected to the internet. Plus, their Bluetooth feature is disabled. Most of the times, workers are not allowed to bring mobile phones, within a close range of these computers. All these measures are taken for web application security, in order to keep crucial data out of the hands of remote hackers.
But these security measures may not work in the future, because of a new technique researchers in Israel have developed. They have found out a method of secretly extracting sensitive data from machines that are isolated. This is done by using mobile phones and radio frequency signals. The attack reminds of a similar method that NSA has been using for at least six years, to route data towards them. A NSA catalog of spy tools that was leaked online explains about systems, which uses radio frequency signals to drain out data remotely, with the help of air-gapped machines and transceivers. A combination transmitter and receiver is called a transceiver and they are attached to, or ingrained in the computer instead of a mobile phone. This method has reportedly been used in China, Iran and Russia. But, the exact technique has never been revealed.
The researchers in Israel are not claiming that they have the same method that is being used by NSA, but the Chief Technology Officer in Israel Lab – Mr. Dudu Mimran, accepts that if student researchers have found out a method of using radio signals to extract information from secured systems, then professionals with more resources and experience have definitely discovered it too.
His statement to WIRED was, “We are doing research way behind people [like that]. The people who are doing that are getting a lot of money and are doing that [full time].”
The method has been dubbed as “AirHopper” by the researchers at Cyber Security Labs at Ben Gurion University and it can prove to be a big threat for web application security. The proof-of-concept technique enables spies and hackers to take out passwords and other critical data, using radio signals generated by the computer and accepted by a mobile phone. The research was organized by Mordechai Guri, Assaf Kachlon, Gabi Kedma and supervised by their adviser Yuval Elovici.
The chain of attack as per researchers, “is rather complicated,”. But, it is not beyond the abilities and skills that have already been seen in attacks conducted by hackers in China and other regions of the world.