Attackers can use sound waves to interfere with a hard drive’s normal mode of operation, creating a temporary or permanent denial of state (DoS) that could be used to prevent CCTV systems from recording video footage or freeze computers dealing with critical operations.

The basic principle behind this attack is that sound waves introduce mechanical vibrations into an HDD’s data-storage platters. If the sound is played at a specific frequency, it creates a resonance effect that amplifies the vibration effect.

Because hard drives store vasts amounts of information inside small areas of each platter, they are programmed to stop all read/write operations during the time a platter vibrates so to avoid scratching storage disks and permanently damaging an HDD.

The notion of using sounds to disrupt hard drive operations is not a new idea, being previously discussed in previous research dating back almost a decade.

Back in 2008, current Joyent CTO Brandon Gregg showed how loud sounds induce read/write errors for a data center’s hard drives, in the now infamous “Shouting in a datacenter” video. Earlier this year, an Argentinian researcher demoed how he made a hard drive temporarily stop responding to OS commands by playing a 130Hz tone.

New research shows practicality of HDD acoustic attacks

Last week, scientists from the Princeton and Purdue universities published new research into the topic, expanding on the previous findings with the results of additional practical tests.

The research team used a specially crafted test rig to blast audio waves at a hard drive from different angles, recording results to…

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