Researchers at Israel's Ben Gurion University say they have developed a method of retrieving data from or sending simple commands to an air-gapped computer using heat emissions and a computer's built-in thermal sensors.
Air-gapped systems, which are computers isolated from the Internet and not connected to systems with Internet connections, are used in various applications, including classified military networks, payment-processing networks, and industrial control systems. The Ben Gurion researchers' method requires two computers: an air-gapped system and an Internet-connected system. Both computers have to be infected by malware the researchers developed, called BitWhisper, and must be within 40 centimeters of each other.
BitWhisper works by raising or lowering one computer's internal temperature in a way that can be detected by the other system's internal thermal sensors. The changes in temperature are then interpreted by the BitWhisper malware as binary bits that can be used to send very basic commands or retrieve information such as a password or encryption key. The researchers used BitWhisper to command an air-gapped system to reposition a toy missile launcher. Further research could increase the effective range of the attack and enable it to function with a variety of Internet-connected devices, not just PCs.
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