IT Pro is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Researchers turn an air-gapped system into a Wi-Fi transmitter

Malware planted on computers could use electromagnetic signals from memory to transfer data wirelessly

Researchers have found a way to turn a RAM module in an air-gapped computer into an ad-hoc Wi-Fi card in order to transfer data from a computer that would otherwise have no connection to the internet.

The exploit, dubbed 'Air-Fi', can transform an air-gapped computer into a device that uses DDR SDRAM buses “to generate electromagnetic emissions in the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi bands and encode binary data on top of it”, according to a research paper published by scientist Mordechai Guri, at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.

Air-gapped systems are designed to be isolated from external unsecured networks, which means they're disconnected from the internet, and devices or systems capable of accessing the internet. They often find use in highly sensitive environments, such as sites operated by the military or government agencies.

Electronic components generate electromagnetic waves when the electrical current passes through them, the same process that's used in Wi-Fi networks. Guri’s idea was to install malware on an air-gapped system that would adjust the electrical current running through the RAM to generate 2.4GHz radio signals.

By using this technique, Guri was able to pick up the wireless signal using any device with Wi-Fi, such as a smartphone or even an IoT device. For any memory module that was unable to transmit at that frequency, the malware would overclock or underclock the memory frequency via the BIOS/UEFI firmware.

Guri managed to transfer data from the RAM modules at up to 100 bytes per second within a radius of few meters. The hack can work on any operating system or even a virtual machine, without the need for the air-gapped computer to have any Wi-Fi transmitter installed.

Guri pointed out there are a number of countermeasures that could be taken to prevent such an attack. These range from banning any type of Wi-Fi receiver from near an air-gapped device, software, and hardware signal jamming, or placing an air-gapped computer in a faraday cage.

Planting malware on an air-gapped machine would also likely require physical access to the system.

Featured Resources

Four strategies for building a hybrid workplace that works

All indications are that the future of work is hybrid, if it's not here already

Free webinar

The digital marketer’s guide to contextual insights and trends

How to use contextual intelligence to uncover new insights and inform strategies

Free Download

Ransomware and Microsoft 365 for business

What you need to know about reducing ransomware risk

Free Download

Building a modern strategy for analytics and machine learning success

Turning into business value

Free Download

Recommended

What is Wi-Fi 6?
wifi & hotspots

What is Wi-Fi 6?

17 May 2022
Zyxel NWA90AX review: Wi-Fi 6 at a bargain price
wifi & hotspots

Zyxel NWA90AX review: Wi-Fi 6 at a bargain price

20 Apr 2022
Ubiquiti Networks UniFi U6-LR review: A wealth of features for a very fair price
wifi & hotspots

Ubiquiti Networks UniFi U6-LR review: A wealth of features for a very fair price

4 Feb 2022
Netgear Orbi Pro Wi-Fi 6 review: Super-fast and super pricey
wifi & hotspots

Netgear Orbi Pro Wi-Fi 6 review: Super-fast and super pricey

31 Jan 2022

Most Popular

Russian hackers declare war on 10 countries after failed Eurovision DDoS attack
hacking

Russian hackers declare war on 10 countries after failed Eurovision DDoS attack

16 May 2022
Windows Server admins say latest Patch Tuesday broke authentication policies
Server & storage

Windows Server admins say latest Patch Tuesday broke authentication policies

12 May 2022
IT admin deletes company’s databases and is jailed for seven years
Policy & legislation

IT admin deletes company’s databases and is jailed for seven years

16 May 2022