Identifying Malware by Sniffing its EM Signature

The phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is most often attributed to Carl Sagan, specifically from his television series Cosmos. Sagan was probably not the first person to put forward such a hypothesis, and the show certainly didn’t claim he was. But that’s the power of TV for you; the term has since come to be known as the “Sagan Standard” and is a handy aphorism that nicely encapsulates the importance of skepticism and critical thinking when dealing with unproven theories.

It also happens to be the first phrase that came to mind when we heard about Obfuscation Revealed: Leveraging Electromagnetic Signals for Obfuscated Malware Classification, a paper presented during the 2021 Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). As described in the mainstream press, the paper detailed a method by which researchers were able to detect viruses and malware running on an Internet of Things (IoT) device simply by listening to the electromagnetic waves being emanated from it. One needed only to pass a probe over a troubled gadget, and the technique could identify what ailed it with near 100% accuracy.

Those certainly sound like extraordinary claims to us. But what about the evidence? Well, it turns out that digging a bit deeper into the story uncovered plenty of it. Not only has the paper been made available for free thanks to the sponsors of the ACSAC, but the team behind it has released all of code and documentation necessary to recreate their findings on GitHub.

Unfortunately we seem to have temporarily misplaced the $10,000 1 GHz Picoscope 6407 USB oscilloscope that their software is written to s ..

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