Sounds from your hard disk drive can even be used to steal a PC's data

An HDD's internal mechanical arm can be used to generate acoustic binary signals

Researchers have found a way to steal a PC’s data by using the mechanical noise coming from the hard disk drives inside.

It’s not a very practical hack, but the scheme has been designed for “air-gapped” systems, or computers that have been sectioned off from the Internet.

The researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel have been studying how to use sound to extract information from air-gapped computers. In June, they showed that even a PC’s cooling fans can be controlled to secretly transmit data, including passwords and encryption keys.

In a new paper, the researchers found that a PC’s hard disk drive could also generate enough noise to do the same. They did this, by manipulating the drive’s internal mechanical arm, to generate binary signals.

Typically, the mechanical arm only reads and writes data within the hard drive. But when in use, it also creates a good deal of sound at different frequencies -- which the researchers decided to exploit.

They developed a piece of malware called “DiskFiltration” which can infect a Linux-based PC to control a hard disk drive’s operations. To record the emitted noise, the researchers placed a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone nearby to log and decrypt the signals.

They found that their hack could transmit enough 0s and 1s for a stream of data, including passwords. However, the transmission rate is quite slow at only 180 bits per minute, and the range is only effective at up to six feet.

Nevertheless, the method is covert. A hacker could infect an air-gapped system with a USB stick, and then secretly extract the data, by simply recording the nearby sounds.

To prevent this kind of hacking, owners of air-gapped owners can consider using solid-state drives, which have no moving parts, the researcher said. 

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

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

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

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 >

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

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

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?