Scientists figured out how to protect computers from physical hacking using radio waves

A group of scientists have proposed an interesting way to protect electronic equipment from physical tampering. The technology will allow in an accessible way to control non-interference in systems in full – from racks to individual cases. If the slightest attempt at physical hacking is detected, for example, to set bookmarks, the system will raise an alarm. What is important, the proposed method is very simple to implement and it will be inexpensive.

Modern solutions for controlling unauthorized physical intervention in the operation and configuration of electronics involve the protection of individual system components – processor, memory, and so on. Scientists from the Ruhr University Bochum, the Max Planck Institute and PHYSEC proposed to immediately monitor the integrity of the equipment in the full volume of the case. This is done using two small antennas and a special radio signal. In fact, we are talking about creating a semblance of a digital fingerprint for each electronic device assembly.

The physical burglary detection system consists of small transmitting and receiving antennas. The radio signal reflected from the electronic components is recorded by the receiving antenna as a digital fingerprint. Any attempt to install something superfluous in the system distorts the signal and reports interference.

In a series of experiments, the researchers showed that the system reliably responded to the penetration of a 0.3 mm needle into the case of a working computer to a depth of 1 cm. The system continued to detect penetration of a 0.1 mm needle into the case, but not in all positions. “Therefore, in practical applications, it makes sense to carefully consider where to place the antennas,” one of the authors of the study shares his ideas. “They should be as close as possible to components that require a high degree of protection.”

It is interesting to note that PHYSEC, whose specialists took part in the work, is already using the presented technology to prevent unauthorized manipulations with critical infrastructure components. Well, additional protection never hurts, although there should be no outsiders in the server rooms anyway.

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