This Palm-Sized Bug Wirelessly Steals Laptop Crypto Keys

This $US300 Palm-Sized Bug Wirelessly Steals Laptop Crypto Keys

This self-contained snooping device can steal data from laptops within 19 inches of it, sniffing out information based on the radio waves that leak from processors as a result of their variations in power use. And, as its designers point out, it's small enough to fit inside a pita.

Developed by researchers from Tel Aviv University and Israel's Technion research institute, the device is built from components that total less than $US300. While it uses techniques that have been demonstrated in the past — researchers have long known that the signals emitted by processors as they churn through calculations can be hijacked in order to obtain information — the team points out that it's the smallest, cheapest implementation to date.

The Portable Instrument for Trace Acquisition — PITA for short — is fairly simple: a wire loop constitutes an aerial, while a Rikomagic controller chip and Funcube software defined radio provide the brains. It can store its eavesdroppings to an on-board SD card or beam them via wifi to a nearby computer. The team were able to shrink the system down to this scale by only sampling the signals emanating from a nearby computer intermittently as opposed to continuously, allowing the batteries to last far longer.

This $US300 Palm-Sized Bug Wirelessly Steals Laptop Crypto Keys

So far, the team has show that that the device can be used to extract encryption keys stored by GnuPG — a version of the PGP encryption system — but it should in theory work with others, too. And while ensuring such a piece of hardware can be placed with 19 inches of a laptop may sound difficult, at least it's small enough to be secreted inside an innocuous-looking disguise. We'll always be far more sceptical of nearby felafel sandwiches in the future. [Scribd via Wired]

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