Researchers steal data from a PC by controlling the noise from the fans

The created malware is called Fansmitter and hijacks the computer's fans to transmit data

Even the noise from your PC’s fans could be used to steal the data inside. Researchers in Israel have found a way to do just by hijacking the fans inside and manipulating the sounds they create.

The research from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev shows how data could be stolen from “air-gapped” computers, which are not connected to the Internet.

These air-gapped computers are isolated and typically contain the most sensitive information. To hack them, attackers typically need to gain physical access and install malware, possibly through a USB stick.

Past research has shown that once infected, these air-gapped computers could transmit any stolen data through the speakers, in the form of ultrasonic signals. Simply uninstalling the speakers, however, can avoid the risk.

The researchers in Israel have come up with another way to target these air-gapped systems. Their malware can secretly send the data over audio waves generated by the computer’s fans, according to a paper they released on Wednesday.

The malware, called Fansmitter, works by controlling the speed at which the fans run. This can create varying acoustic tones that can be used to transmit the data.

To receive the data, the hackers would need to compromise a nearby mobile phone. This phone could then decode the noise from the fans, assuming the device is close enough to the sound or within eight meters.

fansmitter

Once the noise is decoded, the phone could then relay all information back to the hackers. The researchers tested their malware using a Dell desktop and a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone.

Of course, the malware has its certain limitations. Only up to 15 bits per minute can be transmitted, but it’s enough to send off password and encryption keys, according to the researchers.

Attacking PCs this way also isn’t practical. But given that most PCs and electronics are built with cooling fans, all kinds of devices are potentially vulnerable, the researchers said.

Owners of these air-gapped systems, however, can still prevent the risk. They can use water-cooling systems instead of fans within their computers. Or they can choose to ban the use of mobile phones around their air-gapped systems, the researchers said.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags hackersPChacking

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?