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.
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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