Hackers can Now Steal Your Data Through Your Hard Drive Activity Light

Published on 02-23-2017  | 

Red LEDWe have a customer in our Omaha Service Center who swears he is being followed.  He believes a dark van is following him around and hacking into his mobile devices with an oversized, heavy MacBook Pro.

While we never make fun of our customers, it is highly unlikely he is the target of an epic Steve Jobs-centric hacking cult.  With that said, the latest hacking method is sure to increase the sales of electrical tape as people cover their hard drive activity indicator lights.

What is a Hard Drive Indicator Light?

The hard drive indicator light is that little light on your laptop or desktop (many times it is red) that blinks as your computer is thinking.  The faster it blinks the harder your computer is pounding its hard drive.  In fact, sometimes it appears to be solid during times of 100% utilization.

People like our Omaha customer who are hyper-concerned about security will often rely on a fail-safe method of isolating a computer called air gaping.  This is a fancy way of saying they disconnect from all networks - wireless or wired.

An air gaped computer can't get online and therefore is a lot harder to steal information from.  But not impossible...

How Do Hackers Steal Through an LED?

The answer is: very slowly.  Imagine a scenario where a bad guy wants to get information off of a computer that is protected by an air gap.  You can't connect to it.  It doesn't have Bluetooth.  No near-field communication here.

To accomplish this hack the bad guys need to get physical access to the computer at some point to plug in a USB flash drive or some other removable media.  When they do this the computer is infected with a special virus that locates the target data.

That target data is then encoded into a Morse-like system of blinks.  Your computer's hard drive LED indicator can blink up to 6,000 times per second, so the transmission speed will make a dial-up modem look like god's gift to Internet access.

Enter the Drone

Next the data thieving Apple cult will fly a camera equipped drone up the side of the building so it has a view of the target computer.

The camera will then record or transmit the blinking hard drive light as it transmits the target data visually.

Admittedly this is a far fetched method of staling information from a regular computer user, but nation states have used similar methods before using computer microphones, speakers, and even the unique sounds each keystroke on your keyboard makes as you type!

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