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Van Eck phreaking

(also Van Eck radiation)

Van Eck phreaking definition

Van Eck phreaking is a form of eavesdropping when an attacker gathers information from electronic devices by picking up and decoding the electromagnetic radiation (EMR) they emit.

An attacker doesn't need physical access to the device to gather the information, and the attack is hard to detect since it doesn't leave traces on the target system. However, successful Van Eck phreaking requires very specific equipment, high technical knowledge, and proximity to the target device.

See also: side-channel attack, phreaking

Defenses against Van Eck Phreaking include:

  • Shielding devices to reduce or distort emissions.
  • Using specially designed hardware or software.
  • Maintaining physical security ensures attackers cannot get close enough to the device to perform this attack.

History of Van Eck phreaking

In 1985, a Dutch computer scientist, Wim van Eck, published a detailed paper called ”Electromagnetic Radiation from Video Display Units: An Eavesdropping Risk?” He described how electromagnetic radiation from computer monitors can be captured and used to recreate data displayed on the monitor's screen.

This method of eavesdropping caught the attention of the computer security community and the general public, leading to the popularization of the term ”Van Eck Phreaking.” While the concept of electromagnetic eavesdropping existed before van Eck's publication, his paper was one of the first to bring this potential security risk to widespread attention in everyday computer use.

Experiments and demonstrations validated the concept in the years following van Eck's paper. For instance, in 2009, researchers Martin Vuagnoux and Sylvain Pasini demonstrated an attack on two widely used cipher algorithms, further showing the potential risks of this side-channel attack.