It involves storing information on computers that are never connected to the Internet, an extreme method of isolation designed to prevent any chance of data leaking out.
Researchers from Ben-Gurion University in Israel have found a way to compromise those machines. Once a computer is infected with a particular kind of virus, hackers can trick the PC into relaying information that can be wirelessly retrieved from a mobile phone located outside of the room.
“The scenario is that you go to a secure facility and leave your cell phone at the entrance,” said Dudu Mimran, chief technology officer at Ben-Gurion’s cybersecurity labs. “The virus will send the data to your phone.”
The university’s findings have ignited a discussion within cybersecurity circles about the effectiveness of air-gap networks. Since the lab published its findings, its web site and YouTube video got more than 100,000 views combined, according to the university.
The researchers are now working on ways to mitigate the effects of such a breach. They say they have yet to find a way to protect against the attack other than to store equipment in special metal enclosures or to build walls thick enough to scramble radio frequencies and block the transmission.