Data Thieves Unlikely to Freeze Your PC

The threat from a widely publicized security breach is overblown.


Calling it the "popsicle hack," a PC market analyst is throwing cold water on concerns that computers are widely vulnerable to a new security breach. Princeton researchers (.pdf) drew widespread attention when they said that freezing a computer's memory chips preserves data that normally disappear when a computer is turned off. Someone who chills the chips can retrieve data after the PC has been powered down.

Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies makes the process sound at least far-fetched and maybe laughable in the real world. Someone would have to have access to a notebook when it's running or sleeping (not turned off) and then spray liquid nitrogen to freeze the chips. Then the thief would have to abscond with the memory sticks to another machine to sniff out the precious data—and return to the target machine to apply the revealed password. Only then could the bad guy open an encrypted hard drive.

While possible, the attack remains much less likely than much more mundane methods of cracking a computer, Kay says. "Anyone who knows the security biz knows that there is no such thing as absolute security, only reasonable security for a given situation," he adds. "Commercial-grade security is good enough for most businesses, but spooks need a higher grade."

So maybe James Bond has to worry about keeping his laptop out of the freezer. But not the rest of us.