Imagine this: In the near future, an undercover Special Forces soldier needs to infect an enemy computer with surveillance software.
But instead of accessing the target computer over the Internet, hijacking a Wi-Fi signal or physically inserting a USB drive, the soldier takes up a position near the building housing the computer.
He raises an electronic rifle, aims at the machine through a glass window and zap! The computer is infected.
Impossible? Not to the U.S. Army's Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate, which is looking into ways to bridge the "air gap" that separates protected, isolated computers from external networks.
A fascinating story in C4ISR Journal details how private companies are trying to meet the Army's requests by studying and exploiting the faint electromagnetic field that all electronic devices emit.
(C4ISR is a military acronym for "command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.")
A few years ago, Swiss researchers showed it was possible to read keystrokes by monitoring a computer's emissions, even from another room. You can view demonstrations on SecurityTube.net.
The Army's researchers are trying to attempt the reverse — to use electronic emissions to enter code into a computer.
"This is old technology," a retired Army intelligence official told C4ISR Journal. "The technology itself isn't new, but the application of the technology is new, and the software running the technology on some of these devices is new."
Unnamed experts hinted to C4ISR Journal that current limitations force electromagnetic code injectors to be very close to their targets, and that data-transfer rates are slow.
But most of the sources the reporter spoke to were optimistic.
"We have to understand better the electromagnetic spectrum," a director of the Army's electronic-warfare efforts told the magazine. "If you control the electromagnetic spectrum, you control the fight."