New tool detects electromagnetic attacks

An instrument that determines the strength, frequency, and direction of electromagnetic attacks has been developed in Germany. 

Electromagnetic pulses change the voltage in equipment, so that regulators, switches, and circuit boards in electronic equipment are interfered with. Those affected by it do not know why computers or machines breakdown or from which direction the attack comes.

Now, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Technological Trend Analysis INT, including Michael Jöster, have developed a measurement instrument to pinpoint this threat.

The engineering requirements demand that the detector measures very high field strengths from very short pulses, yet shouldn’t be destroyed or damaged itself.

Four specialised antennas make up the INT demonstration instrument that samples the environment around the subject device to be protected. Each of these covers a quadrant of 90 degrees and is said to detect all types of electromagnetic sources.

A high-frequency module preconditions the signals for measurement and determines when the electromagnetic pulse started and stopped. A computer in a monitoring station connected via an optical conductor then calculates the values for the signal and presents them on a screen.

‘We identify the type and location of the source of the invisible attack as well as its duration. Those affected by the attack can use this information to mount a rapid and appropriate protective response,’ Jöster said in a statement.

The threat scenarios are real: criminals disrupt computer networks of banks, exchanges, and companies. They cause confusion in order to bypass monitoring points or overcome alarm systems, enabling them to penetrate into secure areas.

Individual cases of these kinds of attacks have already been documented: thieves used electromagnetic waves to crack the security systems of limousines in Berlin and their weapons are no larger than a suitcase.

High-power microwave sources are suitable for those kinds of attacks, for example. Depending on the field strength, the attacker using these high-power microwaves can be located several metres from the target of the attack.

‘Located In the right position, it is enough to press a button to trigger the pulse…the electronic systems nearby can fail or be damaged,’ said Jöster.