Cyber attacks may or may not involve the exploitation of a vulnerability. Vulnerabilities can occur in both hardware and software. When exploited, they may allow a hacker to perform a malicious activity. There are side-channel cyber attacks, however, that don’t involve the exploitation of a vulnerability. What is a side-channel cyber attack, and how do you prevent them?

Overview of Side-Channel Cyber Attack

A side-channel cyber attack is a type of malicious, digital attack in which a hacker monitors the data or information released by a computer system. All computer systems release information. It’s not a vulnerability or weakness. Rather, different types of computer hardware are designed to release data during use. Side-channel cyber attacks seek to capture this information for nefarious purposes.

Timing Side-Channel Cyber Attacks

There are timing side-channel cyber attacks that involve monitoring and comparing time-based activities. A hacker, for instance, may monitor how long it takes a victim to enter a password. The shorter the length of time, the fewer characters the victim’s password likely contains. A timing side-channel cyber attack won’t necessarily reveal the victim’s password. Rather, it will allow the hacker to determine the length of the victim’s password.

Cache Side-Channel Cyber Attacks

Cache is another common type of side-channel cyber attack. Cache side-channel cyber attacks involve monitoring the data stored in a cache. Caches, of course, are storage locations for temporary data. Whether you realize it or not, your computer has a cache. Your computer will automatically store data temporarily in a cache. Cache side-channel cyber attacks seek to view and capture this data for nefarious purposes.

Cold Boot Side-Channel Cyber Attack

One of the most destructive types of side-channel cyber attacks is cold boot. Also known as a data remanence attack, a cold boot side-channel cyber attack involves a memory dump. When you restart your computer, a memory dump will occur. Your computer will delete all of the data saved on its random memory access (RAM). Cold boot side-channel cyber attacks involve a forced memory dump such as this. When the data is dumped, a hacker may be able to view and capture it.

While side-channel cyber attacks are problematic, you can prevent them from occurring in several ways. Using both digital and physical safeguards, for instance, will lower the risk of a side-channel cyber attack. If multiple users have access to your computer, you may want to create unique IDs for each of them as well.