Researchers Find Way to Steal Encrypted Data – New York Times — I think clubbing a guy over the head and forcing him to give up the passsword is more viable than this. It should be a good gimmick in a movie script though.
In a technical paper that was published Thursday on the Web site of Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, the group demonstrated that standard memory chips actually retain their data for seconds or even minutes after power is cut off.
When the chips were chilled using an inexpensive can of air, the data was frozen in place, permitting the researchers to easily read the keys — long strings of ones and zeros — out of the chip’s memory.
“Cool the chips in liquid nitrogen (-196 °C) and they hold their state for hours at least, without any power,” Edward W. Felten, a Princeton computer scientist, wrote in a Web posting. “Just put the chips back into a machine and you can read out their contents.”
The researchers used special pattern-recognition software of their own to identify security keys among the millions or even billions of pieces of data on the memory chip.
“We think this is pretty serious to the extent people are relying on file protection,” Mr. Felten said.