Protecting Your Devices from Malicious Software Attacks with Electromagnetic Pulses

Electromagnetic pulses (EMP) are short bursts of electromagnetic energy that can be either natural or artificial. They can manifest themselves as an electromagnetic field, electric field, magnetic field, or conducted electrical current. An EMP can disrupt communications and damage electronic equipment, such as buildings and aircraft. To manage the effects of an EMP, a branch of electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) engineering is used. A high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) weapon is a non-nuclear warhead designed to detonate high above the Earth's surface.

These pulses have a very sharp edge of attack and quickly reach their maximum level. The concept of a flow compression generator with explosive pumping to generate a non-nuclear EMP was first proposed by Andrei Sakharov in the Soviet Union in 1951. Since then, countries have been working on the classification of non-nuclear EMPs. An EMP usually consists of many frequencies, from a low limit to an upper limit, depending on the source. To achieve the desired frequency characteristics for optimal coupling to the target, wave-forming circuits or microwave generators are added between the pulse source and the antenna. These pulses are usually in the form of a rectangular or square pulse. According to Maxwell's equations, an electrical energy pulse will always be accompanied by a magnetic energy pulse.

Induced pulses have much lower energy than threat pulses and are therefore easier to create, but they are less predictable. There is also the emerging threat of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks, in which mobile devices can become inactive and permanently unusable. Even so, an attacker could cause the crucial flaw by moving his hand over the device while holding a small EMP generator. These frequencies cover a wide range, from 9 kilohertz (kHz) to 300 gigahertz (GHz), and represent the rate of oscillation of electromagnetic radiation within the electromagnetic radio wave spectrum. The first recorded damage caused by an EMP was during the solar storm of August 1859, or the Carrington event.

At the recent ReCon computer security conference, Ang Cui from Red Balloon Security and research scientist Rick Housley presented a new approach to hacking processors using EMPs to produce specific hardware faults. To protect against malicious software attacks using EMPs, it is important to understand how they work and what measures can be taken to mitigate their effects. One way to do this is by using EMC engineering principles to design systems that are resistant to EMPs. Additionally, it is important to use shielding materials such as aluminum foil or copper mesh around sensitive components to reduce their vulnerability to EMPs. Finally, it is important to use surge protectors and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) for critical systems.

Preston Mcnealy
Preston Mcnealy

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