Hard Disk Sounds can be Used to Steal PC Data, Finds Researchers

August 16, 2016, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

Unplugging your computer from all kind of communication is not the end solution to keep your PCs secures. This is according to a new research, which finds that hackers can steal data from your PC by using the hard disk sound.

Researchers from Israel’s Ben-Gurion University have now found that the acoustic signals produced from a hard disk is more than enough for a hacker to gain access to all the personal data stored in a PC.

Called DiskFiltration, this new hack makes use of the actuator used in hard drives that moves over the platters to enable the reading and writing of data by the head. To get you more with actuator, it’s the mechanical arm that actually produces the clicking noise in a PC you all should be familiar with.

hard disk

Audible signal sent out by the actuator can be used to get the data using the right type of malware, which is what they call DiskFiltration. The ugly part is that it won’t have any restrictions; even information like encryption key can be transmitted in the form of 0s and 1s.

But it’s a time consuming process; DiskFiltration has a speed of 180 bits per minute, which means that it would take around 74 hours to steal a 100 KB document. It can still hack a 4096-bit key in around 25 minutes. The signals can be perceived within a range of six feet.

With DiskFiltration, air-gapped systems (system with no network connection or other modes of communication) can be hacked using covert methods like plugging a USB to record the actuator sounds. One possible remedy would be to replace the mechanical drives with SSD, which comes with no such moving parts.

Stealing data through acoustic sounds from the hard drive is not the sole threat for air-gapped systems. Technology like BitWhisper can retrieve data from such a system with heat scanning. There have also been methods that relied on the sounds produced by case fan to get data from air-gapped computers.

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