Researchers at the University of the Negev, Israel, have published a paper showing how a hacker could use their SATA cable to extract data from an otherwise secure system. The attack uses the SATA cable itself as a wireless transmitter, and the data transmitted on it can be intercepted as a radio signal in the 6 GHz band. The attack is appropriately referred to as SATAn.
The researchers published a paper here (opens in new tab)(above Tom’s hardware (opens in new tab)). They successfully demonstrated the technique and showed it off in a video included above. It must be said that this type of attack is complicated and requires installation of a specific malware on the targeted machine. It requires special shellcode to modify file system activities that generate identifiable radio signals from SATA cables.
Electromagnetic leakage from the cables can be intercepted by a wireless receiver and replicated on a second device. Researchers typed the word “secret” on the target machine, which was picked up by a second machine. It’s just a simple demo, but there’s no reason why targeted malware couldn’t be used to extract passwords or other sensitive text information.
It is a complicated method as it would require access to the target computer. An air-gap system with no network access would require direct installation of malware. In addition, there is a problem that the SATA signal emission is weak and requires a receiving antenna distance of about 1 meter. It’s not easy to just walk up to a secure system and say hello.
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There are many countermeasures that could be used to prevent this. Aside from the usual network security technologies and protocols present in sensitive environments, a user might as well… not use SATA drives. M.2 drives are becoming more common and using such a drive would render this vulnerability irrelevant. Proper electromagnetic shielding would also prevent access.
Still, this type of vulnerability could be a headache for organizations with highly sensitive data. The SATA standard is very widespread. The world’s nuclear codes will be safe, but shorter strings of data, including bank passwords or cryptocurrency keys, could be attacked.
What would that mean for gamers and home users? Essentially nothing. There are many other ways for hackers to infiltrate home systems, and if someone really wanted your information, it would be just as easy to steal the drive itself. It wouldn’t be that high-tech, but it would be effective! Your data – whatever it is – is safe from this vicious SATAn attack.
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