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Computer security compromised by hardware failure is a branch of computer security applied to hardware. The objective of computer security includes protection of information and property from theft, corruption, or natural disaster, while allowing the information and property to remain accessible and productive to its intended users.Such secret information could be retrieved by different ways. This article focus on the retrieval of data thanks to misused hardware or hardware failure. Hardware could be misused or exploited to get secret data. This article collects main types of attack that can lead to data theft.
Computer security, cybersecurity or information technology security is the protection of computer systems from theft or damage to their hardware, software or electronic data, as well as from disruption or misdirection of the services they provide.
A natural disaster is a major adverse event resulting from natural processes of the Earth; examples are floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other geologic processes. A natural disaster can cause loss of life or damage property, and typically leaves some economic damage in its wake, the severity of which depends on the affected population's resilience, or ability to recover and also on the infrastructure available.
Computer security can be comprised by devices, such as keyboards, monitors or printers (thanks to electromagnetic or acoustic emanation for example) or by components of the computer, such as the memory, the network card or the processor (thanks to time or temperature analysis for example).
The monitor is the main device used to access data on a computer. It has been shown that monitors radiate or reflect data on their environment, potentially giving attackers access to information displayed on the monitor.
Video display units radiate:
Known as compromising emanations or TEMPEST radiation, a code word for a U.S. government programme aimed at attacking the problem, the electromagnetic broadcast of data has been a significant concern in sensitive computer applications. Eavesdroppers can reconstruct video screen content from radio frequency emanations.Each (radiated) harmonic of the video signal shows a remarkable resemblance to a broadcast TV signal. It is therefore possible to reconstruct the picture displayed on the video display unit from the radiated emission by means of a normal television receiver. If no preventive measures are taken, eavesdropping on a video display unit is possible at distances up to several hundreds of meters, using only a normal black-and-white TV receiver, a directional antenna and an antenna amplifier. It is even possible to pick up information from some types of video display units at a distance of over 1 kilometer. If more sophisticated receiving and decoding equipment is used, the maximum distance can be much greater.
What is displayed by the monitor is reflected on the environment. The time-varying diffuse reflections of the light emitted by a CRT monitor can be exploited to recover the original monitor image.This is an eavesdropping technique for spying at a distance on data that is displayed on an arbitrary computer screen, including the currently prevalent LCD monitors.
The technique exploits reflections of the screen’s optical emanations in various objects that one commonly finds in close proximity to the screen and uses those reflections to recover the original screen content. Such objects include eyeglasses, tea pots, spoons, plastic bottles, and even the eye of the user. This attack can be successfully mounted to spy on even small fonts using inexpensive, off-the-shelf equipment (less than 1500 dollars) from a distance of up to 10 meters. Relying on more expensive equipment allowed to conduct this attack from over 30 meters away, demonstrating that similar attacks are feasible from the other side of the street or from a close-by building.
Many objects that may be found at a usual workplace can be exploited to retrieve information on a computer’s display by an outsider.Particularly good results were obtained from reflections in a user’s eyeglasses or a tea pot located on the desk next to the screen. Reflections that stem from the eye of the user also provide good results. However, eyes are harder to spy on at a distance because they are fast-moving objects and require high exposure times. Using more expensive equipment with lower exposure times helps to remedy this problem.
The reflections gathered from curved surfaces on close-by objects indeed pose a substantial threat to the confidentiality of data displayed on the screen. Fully invalidating this threat without at the same time hiding the screen from the legitimate user seems difficult, without using curtains on the windows or similar forms of strong optical shielding. Most users, however, will not be aware of this risk and may not be willing to close the curtains on a nice day.The reflection of an object, a computer display, in a curved mirror creates a virtual image that is located behind the reflecting surface. For a flat mirror this virtual image has the same size and is located behind the mirror at the same distance as the original object. For curved mirrors, however, the situation is more complex.
Computer keyboards are often used to transmit confidential data such as passwords. Since they contain electronic components, keyboards emit electromagnetic waves. These emanations could reveal sensitive information such as keystrokes.Electromagnetic emanations have turned out to constitute a security threat to computer equipment. The figure below presents how a keystroke is retrieved and what material is necessary.
The approach is to acquire the raw signal directly from the antenna and to process the entire captured electromagnetic spectrum. Thanks to this method, four different kinds of compromising electromagnetic emanations have been detected, generated by wired and wireless keyboards. These emissions lead to a full or a partial recovery of the keystrokes. The best practical attack fully recovered 95% of the keystrokes of a PS/2 keyboard at a distance up to 20 meters, even through walls.Because each keyboard has a specific fingerprint based on the clock frequency inconsistencies, it can determine the source keyboard of a compromising emanation, even if multiple keyboards from the same model are used at the same time.
The four different kinds way of compromising electromagnetic emanations are described below.
When a key is pressed, released or held down, the keyboard sends a packet of information known as a scan code to the computer.The protocol used to transmit these scan codes is a bidirectional serial communication, based on four wires: Vcc (5 volts), ground, data and clock. Clock and data signals are identically generated. Hence, the compromising emanation detected is the combination of both signals. However, the edges of the data and the clock lines are not superposed. Thus, they can be easily separated to obtain independent signals.
The Falling Edge Transition attack is limited to a partial recovery of the keystrokes. This is a significant limitation.The GTT is a falling edge transition attack improved, which recover almost all keystrokes. Indeed, between two traces, there is exactly one data rising edge. If attackers are able to detect this transition, they can fully recover the keystrokes.
Harmonics compromising electromagnetic emissions come from unintentional emanations such as radiations emitted by the clock, non-linear elements, crosstalk, ground pollution, etc. Determining theoretically the reasons of these compromising radiations is a very complex task. MHz which is very likely the internal clock of the micro-controller inside the keyboard. These harmonics are correlated with both clock and data signals, which describe modulated signals (in amplitude and frequency) and the full state of both clock and data signals. This means that the scan code can be completely recovered from these harmonics.These harmonics correspond to a carrier of approximately 4
Keyboard manufacturers arrange the keys in a matrix. The keyboard controller, often an 8-bit processor, parses columns one-by-one and recovers the state of 8 keys at once. This matrix scan process can be described as 192 keys (some keys may not be used, for instance modern keyboards use 104/105 keys) arranged in 24 columns and 8 rows.These columns are continuously pulsed one-by-one for at least 3μs. Thus, these leads may act as an antenna and generate electromagnetic emanations. If an attacker is able to capture these emanations, he can easily recover the column of the pressed key. Even if this signal does not fully describe the pressed key, it still gives partial information on the transmitted scan code, i.e. the column number.
Note that the matrix scan routine loops continuously. When no key is pressed, we still have a signal composed of multiple equidistant peaks. These emanations may be used to remotely detect the presence of powered computers. Concerning wireless keyboards, the wireless data burst transmission can be used as an electromagnetic trigger to detect exactly when a key is pressed, while the matrix scan emanations are used to determine the column it belongs to.
Some techniques can only target some keyboards. This table sums up which technique could be used to find keystroke for different kind of keyboard.
|Technique name||Wired Keyboard||Laptop Keyboard||Wireless Keyboard|
|Falling Edge Transition Technique||Yes||Yes|
|Generalized Transition Technique||Yes||Yes|
|Matrix Scan Technique||Yes||Yes||Yes|
In their paper called "Compromising Electromagnetic Emanations of Wired and Wireless Keyboards", Martin Vuagnoux and Sylvain Pasini tested 12 different keyboard models, with PS/2, USB connectors and wireless communication in different setups: a semi-anechoic chamber, a small office, an adjacent office and a flat in a building. The table below presents their results.
|Type of keyboard||Number of tested keyboard||FETT||GTT||MT||MST|
Attacks against emanations caused by human typing have attracted interest in recent years. In particular, works showed that keyboard acoustic emanations do leak information that can be exploited to reconstruct the typed text.
PC keyboards, notebook keyboards are vulnerable to attacks based on differentiating the sound emanated by different keys.This attack takes as input an audio signal containing a recording of a single word typed by a single person on a keyboard, and a dictionary of words. It is assumed that the typed word is present in the dictionary. The aim of the attack is to reconstruct the original word from the signal. This attack, taking as input a 10-minute sound recording of a user typing English text using a keyboard, and then recovering up to 96% of typed characters. This attack is inexpensive because the other hardware required is a parabolic microphone and non-invasive because it does not require physical intrusion into the system. The attack employs a neural network to recognize the key being pressed. It combines signal processing and efficient data structures and algorithms, to successfully reconstruct single words of 7-13 characters from a recording of the clicks made when typing them on a keyboard. The sound of clicks can differ slightly from key to key, because the keys are positioned at different positions on the keyboard plate, although the clicks of different keys sound similar to the human ear.
On average, there were only 0.5 incorrect recognitions per 20 clicks, which shows the exposure of keyboard to the eavesdropping using this attack.The attack is very efficient, taking under 20 seconds per word on a standard PC. A 90% or better success rate of finding the correct word for words of 10 or more characters, and a success rate of 73% over all the words tested. In practice, a human attacker can typically determine if text is random. An attacker can also identify occasions when the user types user names and passwords. Short audio signals containing a single word, with seven or more characters long was considered. This means that the signal is only a few seconds long. Such short words are often chosen as a password. The dominant factors affecting the attack's success are the word length, and more importantly, the number of repeated characters within the word.
This is a procedure that makes it possible to efficiently uncover a word out of audio recordings of keyboard click sounds.More recently, extracting information out of an other type of emanations was demonstrated: acoustic emanations from mechanical devices such as dot-matrix printers.
While extracting private information by watching somebody typing on a keyboard might seem to be an easy task, it becomes extremely challenging if it has to be automated. However, an automated tool is needed in the case of long-lasting surveillance procedures or long user activity, as a human being is able to reconstruct only a few characters per minute. The paper "ClearShot: Eavesdropping on Keyboard Input from Video" presents a novel approach to automatically recovering the text being typed on a keyboard, based solely on a video of the user typing.
Automatically recognizing the keys being pressed by a user is a hard problem that requires sophisticated motion analysis. Experiments show that, for a human, reconstructing a few sentences requires lengthy hours of slow-motion analysis of the video.The attacker might install a surveillance device in the room of the victim, might take control of an existing camera by exploiting a vulnerability in the camera’s control software, or might simply point a mobile phone with an integrated camera at the laptop’s keyboard when the victim is working in a public space.
Balzarotti's analysis is divided into two main phases (figure below). The first phase analyzes the video recorded by the camera using computer vision techniques. For each frame of the video, the computer vision analysis computes the set of keys that were likely pressed, the set of keys that were certainly not pressed, and the position of space characters. Because the results of this phase of the analysis are noisy, a second phase, called the text analysis, is required. The goal of this phase is to remove errors using both language and context-sensitive techniques. The result of this phase is the reconstructed text, where each word is represented by a list of possible candidates, ranked by likelihood.
With acoustic emanations, an attack that recovers what a dot-matrix printer processing English text is printing is possible. It is based on a record of the sound the printer makes, if the microphone is close enough to it. This attack recovers up to 72% of printed words, and up to 95% if knowledge about the text are done, with a microphone at a distance of 10 cm from the printer.
After an upfront training phase ("a" in the picture below), the attack ("b" in the picture below) is fully automated and uses a combination of machine learning, audio processing, and speech recognition techniques, including spectrum features, Hidden Markov Models and linear classification.The fundamental reason why the reconstruction of the printed text works is that, the emitted sound becomes louder if more needles strike the paper at a given time. There is a correlation between the number of needles and the intensity of the acoustic emanation.
A training phase was conducted where words from a dictionary are printed and characteristic sound features of these words are extracted and stored in a database. The trained characteristic features was used to recognize the printed English text. :But, this task is not trivial. Major challenges include
Timing attacks enable an attacker to extract secrets maintained in a security system by observing the time it takes the system to respond to various queries.
SSH is designed to provide a secure channel between two hosts. Despite the encryption and authentication mechanisms it uses, SSH has weaknesses. In interactive mode, every individual keystroke that a user types is sent to the remote machine in a separate IP packet immediately after the key is pressed, which leaks the inter-keystroke timing information of users’ typing. Below, the picture represents the command su processed through a SSH connection.
A very simple statistical techniques suffice to reveal sensitive information such as the length of users’ passwords or even root passwords. By using advanced statistical techniques on timing information collected from the network, the eavesdropper can learn significant information about what users type in SSH sessions.Because the time it takes the operating system to send out the packet after the keypress is in general negligible comparing to the interkeystroke timing, this also enables an eavesdropper to learn the precise interkeystroke timings of users’ typing from the arrival times of packets.
Data remanence problems not only affect obvious areas such as RAM and non-volatile memory cells but can also occur in other areas of the device through hot-carrier effects (which change the characteristics of the semiconductors in the device) and various other effects which are examined alongside the more obvious memory-cell remanence problems.It is possible to analyse and recover data from these cells and from semiconductor devices in general long after it should (in theory) have vanished.
Electromigration, which means to physically move the atom to new locations (to physically alter the device itself) is another type of attack.It involves the relocation of metal atoms due to high current densities, a phenomenon in which atoms are carried along by an "electron wind" in the opposite direction to the conventional current, producing voids at the negative electrode and hillocks and whiskers at the positive electrode. Void formation leads to a local increase in current density and Joule heating (the interaction of electrons and metal ions to produce thermal energy), producing further electromigration effects. When the external stress is removed, the disturbed system tends to relax back to its original equilibrium state, resulting in a backflow which heals some of the electromigration damage. In the long term though, this can cause device failure, but in less extreme cases it simply serves to alter a device’s operating characteristics in noticeable ways.
For example, the excavations of voids leads to increased wiring resistance and the growth of whiskers leads to contact formation and current leakage.An example of a conductor which exhibits whisker growth due to electromigration is shown in the figure below:
One example which exhibits void formation (in this case severe enough to have led to complete failure) is shown in this figure:
Contrary to popular assumption, DRAMs used in most modern computers retain their contents for several seconds after power is lost, even at room temperature and even if removed from a motherboard.
Many products do cryptographic and other security-related computations using secret keys or other variables that the equipment’s operator must not be able to read out or alter. The usual solution is for the secret data to be kept in volatile memory inside a tamper-sensing enclosure. Security processors typically store secret key material in static RAM, from which power is removed if the device is tampered with. At temperatures below −20 °C, the contents of SRAM can be ‘frozen’. It is interesting to know the period of time for which a static RAM device will retain data once the power has been removed. Low temperatures can increase the data retention time of SRAM to many seconds or even minutes.
Maximillian Dornseif presented a technique in these slides, which let him take the control of an Apple computer thanks to an iPod. The attacks needed a first generic phase where the iPod software was modified so that it behaves as master on the FireWire bus. Then the iPod had full read/write access on the Apple Computer when the iPod was plugged into a FireWire port. : audio devices, printers, scanners, cameras, gps, etc. Generally, a device connected by FireWire has full access (read/write). Indeed, OHCI Standard (FireWire standard) reads :FireWire is used by
|“||Physical requests, including physical read, physical write and lock requests to some CSR registers (section 5.5), are handled directly by the Host Controller without assistance by system software.||”|
|— OHCI Standard|
So, any device connected by FireWire can read and write data on the computer memory. For example, a device can :
To increase the computational power, processors are generally equipped with a cache memory which decreases the memory access latency. Below, the figure shows the hierarchy between the processor and the memory. First the processor looks for data in the cache L1, then L2, then in the memory.
When the data is not where the processor is looking for, it is called a cache-miss. Below, pictures show how the processor fetch data when there are two cache levels.
Unfortunately caches contain only a small portion of the application data and can introduce additional latency to the memory transaction in the case of a miss. This involves also additional power consumption which is due to the activation of memory devices down in the memory hierarchy. The miss penalty has been already used to attack symmetric encryption algorithms, like DES.The basic idea proposed in this paper is to force a cache miss while the processor is executing the AES encryption algorithm on a known plain text. The attacks allow an unprivileged process to attack other process running in parallel on the same processor, despite partitioning methods such as memory protection, sandboxing and virtualization.
By carefully measuring the amount of time required to perform private key operations, attackers may be able to find fixed Diffie-Hellman exponents, factor RSA keys, and break other cryptosystems. Against a vulnerable system, the attack is computationally inexpensive and often requires only known ciphertext.The attack can be treated as a signal detection problem. The signal consists of the timing variation due to the target exponent bit, and noise results from measurement inaccuracies and timing variations due to unknown exponent bits. The properties of the signal and noise determine the number of timing measurements required to for the attack. Timing attacks can potentially be used against other cryptosystems, including symmetric functions.
A simple and generic processor backdoor can be used by attackers as a means to privilege escalation to get to privileges equivalent to those of any given running operating system.Also, a non-privileged process of one of the non-privileged invited domain running on top of a virtual machine monitor can get to privileges equivalent to those of the virtual machine monitor.
Loïc Duflot studied Intel processors in the paper "CPU bugs, CPU backdoors and consequences on security" ; he explains that the processor defines four different privilege rings numbered from 0 (most privileged) to 3 (least privileged). Kernel code is usually running in ring 0, whereas user-space code is generally running in ring 3. The use of some security-critical assembly language instructions is restricted to ring 0 code. In order to escalate privilege through the backdoor, the attacker must :
The backdoors Loïc Duflot presents are simple as they only modify the behavior of three assembly language instructions and have very simple and specific activation conditions, so that they are very unlikely to be accidentally activated. Recent inventions have begun to target these types of processor-based escalation attacks.
Keystroke logging, often referred to as keylogging or keyboard capturing, is the action of recording (logging) the keys struck on a keyboard, typically covertly, so that person using the keyboard is unaware that their actions are being monitored. Data can then be retrieved by the person operating the logging program. A keylogger can be either software or hardware.
A secure cryptoprocessor is a dedicated computer on a chip or microprocessor for carrying out cryptographic operations, embedded in a packaging with multiple physical security measures, which give it a degree of tamper resistance. Unlike cryptographic processors that output decrypted data onto a bus in a secure environment, a secure cryptoprocessor does not output decrypted data or decrypted program instructions in an environment where security cannot always be maintained.
TEMPEST is a National Security Agency specification and a NATO certification referring to spying on information systems through leaking emanations, including unintentional radio or electrical signals, sounds, and vibrations. TEMPEST covers both methods to spy upon others and how to shield equipment against such spying. The protection efforts are also known as emission security (EMSEC), which is a subset of communications security (COMSEC).
Traffic analysis is the process of intercepting and examining messages in order to deduce information from patterns in communication, which can be performed even when the messages are encrypted. In general, the greater the number of messages observed, or even intercepted and stored, the more can be inferred from the traffic. Traffic analysis can be performed in the context of military intelligence, counter-intelligence, or pattern-of-life analysis, and is a concern in computer security.
In cryptography, a timing attack is a side channel attack in which the attacker attempts to compromise a cryptosystem by analyzing the time taken to execute cryptographic algorithms. Every logical operation in a computer takes time to execute, and the time can differ based on the input; with precise measurements of the time for each operation, an attacker can work backwards to the input.
Van Eck phreaking is a form of eavesdropping in which special equipment is used to pick up side-band electromagnetic emissions from electronics devices that correlate to hidden signals or data for the purpose of recreating these signals or data in order to spy on the electronic device. Side-band electromagnetic radiation emissions are present in and, with the proper equipment, can be captured from keyboards, computer displays, printers, and other electronic devices.
Typing is the process of writing or inputting text by pressing keys on a typewriter, computer keyboard, cell phone, or calculator. It can be distinguished from other means of text input, such as handwriting and speech recognition. Text can be in the form of letters, numbers and other symbols. The world's first typist was Lillian Sholes from Wisconsin, the daughter of Christopher Sholes, who invented the first practical typewriter.
In computer security, a side-channel attack is any attack based on information gained from the implementation of a computer system, rather than weaknesses in the implemented algorithm itself. Timing information, power consumption, electromagnetic leaks or even sound can provide an extra source of information, which can be exploited.
Markus Guenther Kuhn is a German computer scientist, currently working at the Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge.
Acoustic cryptanalysis is a type of side channel attack that exploits sounds emitted by computers or other devices.
Keystroke dynamics, keystroke biometrics, typing dynamics and lately typing biometrics, is the detailed timing information which describes exactly when each key was pressed and when it was released as a person is typing at a computer keyboard.
Hardware keyloggers are used for keystroke logging, a method of capturing and recording computer users' keystrokes, including sensitive passwords. They can be implemented via BIOS-level firmware, or alternatively, via a device plugged inline between a computer keyboard and a computer. They log all keyboard activity to their internal memory.
In cryptography, black-bag cryptanalysis is a euphemism for the acquisition of cryptographic secrets via burglary, or other covert means – rather than mathematical or technical cryptanalytic attack. The term refers to the black bag of equipment that a burglar would carry or a black bag operation.
In computing, a computer keyboard is a typewriter-style device which uses an arrangement of buttons or keys to act as mechanical levers or electronic switches. Following the decline of punch cards and paper tape, interaction via teleprinter-style keyboards became the main input method for computers.
The kernel is a computer program that is the core of a computer's operating system, with complete control over everything in the system. On most systems, it is one of the first programs loaded on start-up. It handles the rest of start-up as well as input/output requests from software, translating them into data-processing instructions for the central processing unit. It handles memory and peripherals like keyboards, monitors, printers, and speakers.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is an authentication method in which a computer user is granted access only after successfully presenting two or more pieces of evidence to an authentication mechanism: knowledge, possession, and inherence.
Mobile security, or more specifically mobile device security, has become increasingly important in mobile computing. Of particular concern is the security of personal and business information now stored on smartphones.
TRESOR is a Linux kernel patch which provides CPU-only based encryption to defend against cold boot attacks on computer systems by performing encryption outside usual random-access memory (RAM). It is one of two proposed solutions for general-purpose computers, was developed from its predecessor AESSE, presented at EuroSec 2010 and presented at USENIX Security 2011. The authors state that it allows RAM to be treated as untrusted from a security viewpoint without hindering the system.
In cryptography, electromagnetic attacks are side-channel attacks performed by measuring the electromagnetic radiation emitted from a device and performing signal analysis on it. These attacks are a more specific type of what is sometimes referred to as Van Eck phreaking, with the intention to capture encryption keys. Electromagnetic attacks are typically non-invasive and passive, meaning that these attacks are able to be performed by observing the normal functioning of the target device without causing physical damage. However, an attacker may get a better signal with less noise by depackaging the chip and collecting the signal closer to the source. These attacks are successful against cryptographic implementations that perform different operations based on the data currently being processed, such as the square-and-multiply implementation of RSA. Different operations emit different amounts of radiation and an electromagnetic trace of encryption may show the exact operations being performed, allowing an attacker to retrieve full or partial private keys.
A security switch is a hardware device to protect computers, laptops, smartphones and similar devices from unauthorized access or operation, distinct from a virtual security switch which offers software protection. Security switches should be operated by an authorized user only, for this reason it should be isolated from other devices in order to prevent unauthorized access and it should not be possible to bypass it, in order to prevent malicious manipulation.