If a laptop or computer were stolen, the long-entrusted encryption may not protect important data against hackers. A blast of cold air will do the trick of breaking through a computer’s encrypted hard drive. Research by Princeton University scientists shows that personal banking data, company trade secrets and national security documents may not be safe any more as long as hackers have physical access to the computers. This brings to mind that computers and laptops sent for repair may also face the risk of having private and vital information stolen. If Hong Kong’s Edison Chen had encrypted his computer’s hard drive, his sex controversy with several famous actresses and singers would probably have been exposed anyway in the hands of a semi-skilled hacker.

When the random access memory or RAM chip of the computer is cooled to a temperature of minus 50 degrees Celsius, the chip will retain data for minutes or even hours after the machine loses power. This can be done by spraying an upside-down canister of multi-purpose duster spray directly onto the memory chips. The data retained includes the keys to unlock encryption. Hackers can then steal information before it is purged during this critical period by rebooting the computer with a program which can copy the contents. The computer is especially at risk if it were stolen when it was left in hibernation or sleep mode. A moderately-skilled hacker can bypass well-known encryption tools such as BitLocker, FileVault, TrueCrypt, and dm-crypt.

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