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A briefcase-sized weapon that can destroy any computer network

A briefcase-sized weapon that can destroy any computer network
Derektenhue | Dreamstime

Most business and home computer networks are vulnerable to an attack that can fit inside a briefcase. All a criminal has to do is create a device that sends out electromagnetic waves to overload your system. It can ruin your gadgets and even erase your information!

The problem is growing because the technology available to attackers has improved even as the technology being attacked has become more vulnerable. Our infrastructure increasingly depends on closely integrated, high-speed electronic systems operating at low internal voltages. That means they can be laid low by short, sharp pulses high in voltage but low in energy—output that can now be generated by a machine the size of a suitcase, batteries included.

The size of the weapon will depend on the type of waves they want to send out and what they're attacking. It can vary from the size of a briefcase to something that fits in the back of the van, like the one used in the Las Vegas movie "Ocean's 11." The criminals can either plug directly into your network or just get it close enough so the waves can fry your stuff.

Personal computers are vulnerable, but they're not the only things that criminals can attack with this technology. Everything from cash machines to industrial control equipment is vulnerable because they're high-energy electronic systems that operate at low voltages. Even your cellphones and GPS technology aren't safe.

To protect yourself, you need to put as much distance between your network and potential hackers as possible. There's actually a simple, low-tech solution for businesses. They can put in a large lawn or other open space in between the parking lot and the building to stop criminals from getting close enough to attack. There's also a special tool to protect against plug-in attacks called a "clip" that can stop surges of electricity from entering the network.

Another way to protect your stuff is to make sure your walls are ready for an electromagnetic attack. That means the walls around your network room should contain rebar or metal wallboards that electromagnetic waves can't get through. Hospitals use something called a metal shield to surround MRI machines. Any windows should also have metal screens on them, too.

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