Hackers Steal Encryption Keys With Unit Hidden In Pita Bread

A study by security researchers from Tel Aviv University has shown how secret encryption keys can be stolen using a unit small enough to be hidden underneath pita bread.

Until now, it was thought that such activity required large-scale equipment, but the university team was able to conceal all its kit underneath its lunch.

Using your loaf

The report, entitled Stealing Keys from PCs using a Radio: Cheap Electromagnetic Attacks on Windowed Exponentiation, found how easy it is for hackers to capture radio emissions given off by laptops that inadvertently leak data about the keys.

The researchers developed a cheap mobile tool, Portable Instrument for Trace Acquisition (or PITA for short – pictured above), built from components including a consumer-grade radio receiver and a Software Defined Radio USB dongle to carry out the experiment.

By monitoring the radio signals given off by laptops when the central processing unit (CPU) is processing data, the team discovered that many different operations in a computer, such as playing a game or decrypting a file, had a characteristic pattern of radio activity.

Having sent the target computer an encrypted email message, the team could then track the signals emitted when the computer was decrypting, and therefore was able work out the password key being used to secure data.

The team said the hack can show a password “within a few seconds.”

The attacks were powerful enough to be carried out at a distance of up to 50cm away, meaning hackers could strike in a café or restaurant to steal data from users connected to local Wi-Fi networks.

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Mike Moore

Michael Moore joined TechWeek Europe in January 2014 as a trainee before graduating to Reporter later that year. He covers a wide range of topics, including but not limited to mobile devices, wearable tech, the Internet of Things, and financial technology.

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