Menu
A hard drive's LED light can be used to covertly leak data

A hard drive's LED light can be used to covertly leak data

The flickering from an LED light for a hard disk drive can hijacked to transmit encoded data, according to new research

The seemingly harmless blinking lights on servers and desktop PCs may give away secrets if a hacker can hijack them with malware.

Researchers in Israel have come up with an innovative hack that turns a computer's LED light into a signaling system that shows passwords and other sensitive data.

The researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev demonstrated the hack in a YouTube video posted Wednesday. It shows a hacked computer broadcasting the data through a computer’s LED light, with a drone flying nearby reading the pattern.

The researchers designed the scheme to underscore vulnerabilities of air-gapped systems, or computers that have been intentionally disconnected from the internet.

Air-gapped systems generally carry highly confidential information or operate critical infrastructure. But the researchers have been coming up with sneaky ways to extract data from these computers, like using the noise from the PC’s fan or hard drive to secretly broadcast the information to a nearby smartphone.

Their latest hack leverages the LED activity light for the hard disk drive, which can be found on many servers and desktop PCs and is used to indicate when memory is read or written.

The researchers found that with malware, they could control the LED light to emit binary signals by flashing on and off. That flickering could send out a maximum of 4,000 bits per second or enough to leak out passwords, encryption keys and files, according to their paper. It's likely no one would notice anything wrong.

"The hard drive LED flickers frequently, and therefore the user won't be suspicious about changes in its activity,” said Mordechai Guri, who led the research, in a statement.

To read the signals from the LED light, all that’s needed is a camera or an optical sensor to record the patterns. The researchers found they could read the signal from 20 meters away from outside a building. With an optical zoom lens, that range could be even longer.

It wouldn’t be easy for hackers to pull off this trick. They’d have to design malware to control the LED light and then somehow place it on an air-gapped system, which typically is heavily protected.

They’d also need to find a way to read the signals from the LED light. To do so, a bad actor might hijack a security camera inside the building or fly a drone to spy through a window at night.  

However, the danger of an LED light being hijacked can be easy to solve. The researchers recommend placing a piece of tape over the light, or disconnecting it from the computer.

Subscribe here for up-to-date channel news

Follow Us

Join the New Zealand Reseller News newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Featured

Slideshows

StorageCraft celebrates high achievers at its inaugural A/NZ Partner Awards

StorageCraft celebrates high achievers at its inaugural A/NZ Partner Awards

Revealed at a glitzy bash in Sydney at the Ivy Penthouse, the first StorageCraft Partner Awards locally saw the vendor honour its top-performing partners with ASI Solutions, SMBiT Pro, Webroot, ACA Pacific and Soft Solutions New Zealand taking home the top awards. Photos by Maria Stefina.

StorageCraft celebrates high achievers at its inaugural A/NZ Partner Awards
Kiwi resellers make a splash on Synnex and Lenovo RotoVegas road trip

Kiwi resellers make a splash on Synnex and Lenovo RotoVegas road trip

​Synnex and Lenovo hosted 18 resellers for an action-packed weekend adventure in RotoVegas, taking in white water rafting on the Kaituna River, as well as quad biking and dinner at Stratosfare​, overlooking Lake Rotorua at the top of Mount Ngongotaha​. Photos by Synnex.

Kiwi resellers make a splash on Synnex and Lenovo RotoVegas road trip
Show Comments