What is an air gap?

We’re answering your question, “What is an air gap?”

In cybersecurity, people create an “air gap” when they do not connect a computer or network to the outside world, not even with Wi-Fi.

The theory is that this “gap of air” will keep cyber attackers out — perfect, it would seem, for sensitive places like power plants, industrial systems, the military and more.

But does it work?

Watch here:

Does it Work?

In “The Ultron Imperative,” supervillain Ultron hacks into superhero Tony Stark’s multiple Iron Man suits and uses them to attack.

“Tony, it’s Ultron. He’s taken over your armor. All of them!” warns Wasp.

Iron Man’s armor was hackable.

You might think an air gap could save the day — and the suits.

Disconnect them from the Internet, in fact, from any outside connection, and protect them from cyber villains.

Critical Machines

Some power plants, nuclear plants and other industrial systems use air gaps to keep cyber attackers out, like the Kudankulam nuclear plant in India, also known as KNPP.

Attackers dropped malware onto administrative computers there last year, but they did not get into the actual industrial computers running the plant.

Plant officials said an air gap keeps cyber intruders out of nuclear plants controls.

“KNPP and other Indian nuclear power plants are not connected to outside cyber network and internet. Any cyber attack on the Nuclear Power Plant Control System is not possible,” the officials’ statement said.

Jumping the Gap

Unfortunately, air gaps can be hacked.

In a famous case known as Stuxnet, attackers used a USB to cross the air gap in Iran’s nuclear facilities around 2010 and infected computers with malware, destroying not only computers but centrifuges as well.

And now researchers are finding new ways to jump the gap, including using cell phones, radio waves, even the computer’s fan to do some dirty work.

Researcher Mordechai Guri of Ben-Gurion University also found a way to leak sensitive data from an air-gapped computer by making the computer speakers give off ultrasonic sounds that humans can’t hear, but smart phones can detect.

That means people protecting important computers need to do extra work, above and beyond separating the crucial machines from the Internet and know that an air gap is not a magic bullet, but more like Iron Man, a superhero with great strengths, but also flaws, sometimes fatal.

 

See more “What is?” questions at Archer News:

What is an HMI — and why do attackers like them?

What is a RAT?

What is a DMZ in the digital world?

What is a PLC?

 

Main image: “Mind the gap” warning at London’s Paddington train station. Image: 400tmax/iStock



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