Hacking has become synonymous with today’s digital ecosystem, and whether it is the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or JP Morgan, size, resources or capability are irrelevant if someone wants the information you have badly enough. The breach these organizations experienced is proof. But in these cases, some points of their infrastructure were connected to the internet, which might lead one to ask, can my computer be hacked if it is not connected?
Can an Offline Computer be Hacked?
Technically — as of right now — the answer is no. If you never connect your computer, you are 100 percent safe from hackers on the internet. There is no way someone can hack and retrieve, alter or monitor information without physical access. But there are efforts to overcome this obstacle. A New York Times article reported about an NSA technology allowing hackers to get into a computer, even if it is not connected and alter the data. But even this technology requires physical access to the computer. According to the Times report, “In most cases, the radio frequency hardware must be physically inserted by a spy, a manufacturer or an unwitting user.”
This however is not the only way unconnected computers or smartphones can be accessed or monitored. An article on Business Insider reveals several ways in which this can be achieved. These include electromagnetic radiation spying, power consumption analysis, using a smartphone’s accelerometer as a Key Logger, radio waves that intercept the most secure of networks, using the heat generated by your computer, and accessing data through steel walls.
Most of these techniques are in the research phase carried out by scientists in ideal conditions, and your average hacker will not be able to replicate them. But it highlights the developments that are taking place in this segment.
So What are the Chances These Technologies Will be Used Against a Small Business?
Small business owners want to protect their business data and that of their customers, but how realistic is it for these methods to be used against you? For the vast majority, it is going to be slim to none. This doesn’t mean small businesses will not be targeted, because there are many small businesses that provide specialized services for public and private entities that are high-value targets. So you must protect all your computing devices equally, no matter who you are serving and whether they are connected or not.
Securing Your Mobile Computer
Whether it is a laptop, smartphone or tablet, it is critically important to secure the device so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. But life being what it is, it can get lost, stolen or forgotten, and it is in these moments when it doesn’t matter if a device is connected or not. If the data is on the device, it gives the person or entity that is in possession of it as much time as they need to retrieve it. By making it more difficult to retrieve the data, you have a better chance of taking the necessary measures to counter act the damage the information will cause.
Here are some measures you can take to protect your unconnected device:
- Use strong encryption that makes it very hard or almost impossible to access the data. This gives you many options, and if the data is time sensitive it might be useless when the offenders finally decrypt the drive, if they ever do.
- Install remote wipe/lock software. As the name implies, this allows you to lock and wipe your device, but it has to be connected to the internet for it to work. If those who stole your device are professionals, the last thing they will do is connect it, so in reality this technology has limitations. But for your average theft, this might be perfectly effective.
- Never have important information on your computer. You can use cloud technology to store your data, and retrieve it anytime you want. This means if your computer gets into the wrong hands while you are in transit to that important meeting, you can use any other device to access your data. And if you don’t trust the cloud providers because they have also been hacked, you can create your own cloud for more control.
If the CIA can get hacked, anyone can, and any security expert worth his/her credentials will tell you there is no such thing as being 100 percent secure. This applies to the digital or physical world. The stolen laptop of the Secret Service agent that reportedly had Trump Tower’s floor plans, information about the Hillary Clinton email probe and other national security information is yet one more proof.
Fortunately, there are many solutions in the market place to make it very difficult for anyone to get to your information. And unless you are working on a new prototype that will change the world or hold state secrets, hackers and other criminals will look for easier targets.