If you don’t want data stolen from a computer, unplug it – a saying that has long held, but nowadays, it doesn’t necessarily apply.
Data theft is becoming more commonplace each year, mainly due to the rising popularity of USB drives. These devices are so easily accessible, and because they are so small, people often overlook the security risks they pose. It’s important to remember that you should always be wary of any device plugged into your computer – even if it has a flashing light on top.
Israeli engineers have developed software that transfers data using USB-connected devices. This news shouldn’t come as a surprise in itself, as such software has been developed throughout history, but this application does not transmit traditionally: instead of simply copying data onto a USB key, the software makes peripherals emit electromagnetic radiation, which is a purpose-built interception device can easily pick up. The application is aptly named USBee.
Due to the way it works, data theft does not require a physical connection to the computer that contains sensitive data, meaning that the “air” is no longer perfectly isolated. Using this method, transmitting data a few meters away makes almost any computer vulnerable. The data transmission speed is not very fast due to how it works. Still, it is not intended for general data acquisition of any kind – it is more suitable for targeted attacks, where a well-defined and predictable amount of data is to be acquired.
The method could easily be used in spy movies, but there is still one big problem: the computer has to be infected somehow for the software to do its job. Its advantage over ‘traditional’ methods is that if it somehow manages to get into the system, it can operate virtually undetected because isolation from the network means that it can remain completely invisible to security solutions that monitor the IT system to detect unusual activity.
Data theft has been a problem since the beginning of computers. However, it has become much easier for hackers to steal data from your computer these days. One method they use is connecting a USB key to your computer and stealing files from the hard drive. If you don’t want this or files stolen, you must disable your ports and physically unplug the connection before someone plugs in a malicious device.