using computer fans to steal personal data

Unbelievable! Hackers Are Now Using Your Computer Fans to Steal Personal Data

Are your computers safe when they don’t have an internet connection? In this article, we will discuss how hackers are using the power of cooling fans to compromise your computer and get access to your private data. We will share the concept of how a hacker can access a computer with no internet. Plus, we will explain how you can protect your devices from hackers.

Watch out! You’re more at risk than ever, especially if your computers aren’t hooked up to the Internet.

In Israel, a clever group of hackers started stealing data from air-gapped computers of home users. As an air-gapped computer is not connected to the internet or a local network, you’d think hackers cannot break in..

But now they can!

(Note: What’s an Air-Gapped Computer? Any computer that is not connected to the internet or a server is air-gapped. Before this finding, it was typically known that you’d be able to transfer information on an air-gapped computer via USB only. After all, air-gapped computers are physically isolated and secure. They’re typically found in military centers, nuclear power plants, government offices, or financial institutions.)

How to Break into an Air-Gapped Computer

There are three methods to steal information and break into an air-gapped computer:

  • Electromagnetic waves
  • Radio waves
  • GSM networks

Hackers in all of these aforementioned cases use sound waves of an air-gapped computer fan as a way to extract data such as logging histories, usernames, passwords, or documents.

Let us break down the details for you.

Because data can be extracted simply by using sound waves of computer fans, many military networks and financial institutions use air-gapped computers without any speakers or audio. But even that isn’t enough. Since cooling fans can’t be removed, this is now another easy way for hackers to snoop into an air-gapped computer.

In order for this intrusion to be effective, hackers have to have physical access to these computers to steal their information. They then can use a USB drive to transfer information. However, hackers don’t need physical access all the time; they can leverage other devices with near-physical access to penetrate an air-gapped computer.

How? Air-gapped computers emit radio waves when the CPU and RAM transfer data with each other. While these radio waves can’t send messages to a nearby phone or a computer, if you increase the speed of data transfer on the computer, then that’s the hackers’ way in.

Believe it or not, the accelerometers in your smartphone are effective hacking mechanisms also, as they can detect the movement in your computer’s cooling fans. In fact, you can be an unsuspecting accomplice to such an intrusion, as hackers can run malware on your smartphone to send signals to an air-gapped computer and steal information. (Ever watch 24? It’s also real life, baby.) This is the reason why cellphones are not allowed in military networks or high-security areas.

signal generation

FYI: Need to know more about the research on this topic? Find out everything here.

Using Cooling Fans to Hack your Computer

If you take a look at your computer, then you might see a few cooling fans, one in the CPU, one in the main power supply, perhaps also in a graphic card, and also in a chassis fan. Whenever you are working on your computer or the system is switched on, these cooling fans create an acoustic sound that enhances when you transfer data.

The way this works is simple yet complicated all the same:

With hackers on the case, they attempt  to increase the speed of a single or multiple cooling fans of air-gapped computers to transfer the encryption keys or passwords to nearby computers or smartphones. Simply put, hackers use fan speeds to check the binary numbers of your computer’s data. For instance, hackers can use binary 1’s when the RPM reaches 500 or binary 0’s when the RPM reaches 1000.

What’s our recourse to avoid such a thing ever happening to us? We can manipulate the speed of our devices’ cooling fans to prevent this type of cyberattack. We can also ban computers from getting anywhere near our computers. While that sounds silly and perhaps unrealistic, it’s the solution here.If there is no smartphone or internet-connected computer within 26 feet of an air-gapped computer, then hackers won’t be able to access it.

Let’s get real for a moment. As terrifying as this may sound, this type of cyberattack is not easy and or efficient to carry out. Even if hackers use malware on your internet-enabled phones or computer to get data from an air-gapped computer, it would take months to extract the data. The data transfer takes more time when you are using cooling fans as the source of your attack.

Are Air-Gapped Computers Safe?

Even though air-gapped computers are considered safe because they are untraceable on the internet, hackers can still intercept and steal data from them. These attacks are a bit similar to pharming attacks but with no internet servers.

The Best Way to Mitigate This Attack on Your Computer

Best Answer: It is possible to protect your information from hackers by using encryption on your computers or smartphones. In this way, hackers won’t be able to access your online identity and information regardless if you are using an air-gapped computer or not.

Use a VPN connection on your online device whether it is a computer, smartphone, or laptop. A VPN can encrypt all your internet data and hide every information from hackers as well as ISPs and surveillance agencies. VPNs are specifically designed to hide your online identity and protect digital footprints.

Learn more about how a VPN works.

Get Bank-Grade Encryption on Your Device

You can use PureVPN to enhance your online security whenever you are connected to the internet and transferring sensitive files. Your private data is at risk unless you are using malware protection. To avoid this problem, you can use the “Security” mode on PureVPN to encrypt the incoming internet traffic. Plus, PureVPN uses 256-AES bit encryption which is considered a back-grade encryption protocol that you can use and protect your devices.

Bottom Line

We hope now you have an idea of how hackers are smart enough to extract information from devices that are not even connected to the internet. Devices with and without an internet connection are now unsafe. That’s why you can use a good security tool, like a VPN, to protect your data on a computer or any other device with an internet connection.

Have a few minutes to spare?

Sameed Ajax Sameed is a Digital Content Producer at PureVPN who covers cybersecurity, streaming, and weekly news. He also shares awesome guides and easy hacks to help Internet users protect their private data. Besides that, he waste time playing FIFA, eating pizza, and sending tweets.

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