Freezing Gives Hackers Temporary Access to DRAM Data

Posted on February 22, 2008

Encrypted hard drives may become accessible to hackers with the use of a burst of cold air. Researchers at Princeton University found that freezing a DRAM chip will give a hacker temporary access to computer memory.

The researchers were able to freeze the memory chips with by spraying an "upside-down canister of multipurpose duster spray" directly onto them and then using memory-imaging tools to read the data on the chips. This causes the chip to retain data for minutes to hours after the machine loses power. Without freezing the chip will lose its contents within seconds.

Edward Felten, the director of the Center for Information Technology Policy, says in a statement, "Disk encryption is often recommended as a magic bullet against the loss of private data on laptops. Our results show that disk encryption provides less protection than previously thought. Even encrypted data can be vulnerable if an intruder gets access to the laptop."

Alex Halderman, a Ph.D. candidate in Princeton's computer science department, says, "This method is extremely resistant to countermeasures that defensive programs on the original computer might try to take."

You can read more about the research project here and you can see a YouTube video below.

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