Encrypted data at risk thanks to super cooling process

Security in technology depends greatly on how reliable an encryption technology is; a weak encryption, in many cases, is like having no encryption at all.

A group of researchers at the Princeton University have come up with a rather 'simple' way of stealing encrypted information contained in a computer hard disk.

The process however relies on the computer containing the data being still powered on or having very shortly been switched off.

By cooling the memory chips (DRAM) found in the computer, which contains the temporary access codes, using liquid nitrogen at minus 196 degrees, the boffins are able to 'freeze' the information found in the memory of the computer.

It appears that the DRAM memory chips can store information for up to several minutes after power is switched of, acting like an energy-storing capacitor.

Exposing the chips to very low temperature in effect slows down considerably the process by which they would return to a refreshed state.

Edward W. Felten said that the chips would hold their state (and the information they contain) for several hours, although it would require physical access to the computer in order to remove the memory modules

The rise in high profile tech related bungles like the recent HMRC data loss highlight the importance of having a fool proof encryption solution to prevent third parties from accessing critical information.

However, until now, most of the effort has been put into software security products rather than in developing more robust hardware solutions.