A Feasibility Study of Radio-frequency Retroreflector Attack


Satohiro Wakabayashi, Seita Maruyama, Tatsuya Mori, and Shigeki Goto, Waseda University; Masahiro Kinugawa, National Institute of Technology, Sendai College; Yu-ichi Hayashi, Nara Institute of Science and Technology
Awarded Best Student Paper!


Radio-frequency (RF) retroreflector attack (RFRA) is an active electromagnetic side-channel attack that aims to leak the target's internal signals by irradiating the targeted device with a radio wave, where an attacker has embedded a malicious circuit (RF retroreflector) in the device in advance. As the retroreflector consists of small and cheap electrical elements, such as a field-effect transistor (FET) chip and a wire that can work as a dipole antenna, the reflector can be embedded into various kinds of electric devices that carry unencrypted, sensitive information;, e.g., keyboard, display monitor, microphone, speaker, USB, and so on. Only a few studies have addressed the RFRA. However, they did not evaluate the conditions for a successful attack scientifically, and therefore, assessing the feasibility of the RFRA remains an open issue. In the present study, we aim to evaluate the conditions for a successful RFRA, empirically, through extensive experiments. Understanding attack limitations should help to develop effective countermeasures against it. In particular, as the conditions for a successful attack, we studied the distance between the attacker and the target, and the target signal frequencies. Through the extensive experiments, using off-the-shelf hardware, including software-defined radio (SDR) equipment, we revealed that the required conditions for a successful attack are (1) up to a 10-Mbps of a target signal and (2) up to a distance of 10 meters. We also demonstrated that a USB keyboard, using USB low-speed (1.5 Mbps), is attackable, and we succeeded to eavesdrop typing. We conclude that the RFRA threat is realistic.

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@inproceedings {220592,
author = {Satohiro Wakabayashi and Seita Maruyama and Tatsuya Mori and Shigeki Goto and Masahiro Kinugawa and Yu-ichi Hayashi and Michael Smith},
title = {A Feasibility Study of Radio-frequency Retroreflector Attack},
booktitle = {12th {USENIX} Workshop on Offensive Technologies ({WOOT} 18)},
year = {2018},
address = {Baltimore, MD},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/woot18/presentation/wakabayashi},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},