Tangled Up in Blue Notes

Whenever I read about weird exploits that use unusual attack vectors, I assume it’s going to be coming out of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. They’ve published every insane way to defeat air gaps known to man, including using the sound to spinning hard drives, the indicator lights on a router, and using computer speaks as microphones. But surprisingly, this study came from researchers at the University of Michigan and Zhejiang University.

They demonstrated how ultrasonic tones can disrupt throughput on hard drives, to the point of completely crashing devices. This requires a speaker to be in relatively close proximity. At first, this would seem to make it a largely academic exploit, just avoid having anything with a speaker near a hard drive. Except that every laptop has speakers right next to a hard drive. The researchers demonstrated that using a simple web page to load a ultrasonic tone, they were able to do some significant disruption across a number of laptop models.

Now I’ve been on record that it’s a miracle that mechanical hard drives work was well as they do. They have to be precise within a few nanometers, and deal with vibrations all the time. But given how devious this little exploit is, it might be a good time to upgrade to an SSD.

Read more at: Damaging Hard Drives with an Ultrasonic Attack

About the author

Rich Stroffolino

Rich has been a tech enthusiast since he first used the speech simulator on a Magnavox Odyssey². Current areas of interest include ZFS, the false hopes of memristors, and the oral history of Transmeta.