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A Faraday Cases travel case, configured to keep communications gear safe in transit from unfriendly electromagnetism.
WASHINGTON, DC—A small company from Utah has developed a composite material that combines carbon fibers with a nickel coating. The company, Conductive Composites, is now selling cases built with the Nickel Chemical Vapor Deposition (NiCVD) composite material through its Faraday Cases division. The materials used in Faraday Cases can also be used to create ultra-lightweight antennas, satellite communications reflector dishes, and hundreds of other things that currently need to be made with conductive metal. The "Faraday cage" is named for the English scientist Michael Faraday, who discovered the principles behind electromagnetic shielding.
Faraday cages also work the other way: radio signals and other electromagnetic waves can't escape from inside the cage.
Conductive Composites' materials can also be integrated into paints, wallpaper, and concrete; they could be used to create SCIF-like rooms and buildings without the cost of metal mesh Faraday cages. Lightning strikes and other large electromagnetic pulse events—such as, say, a high-altitude nuclear explosion or geomagnetic storms caused by solar winds on a larger scale—can destroy electrical and electronic systems, inducing currents in conductors within them and overloading them. Shielded cables typically use a tight mesh of conductors to protect from the majority of interference from electromagnetic waves—such as those created by alternating current in power wires and some EMP events.
Conductive Composites hasn't quite launched the Faraday Cases line yet, at least through its Web store.
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The result is an extremely lightweight electric-conducting material with the properties of plastic. The cases range in size from suitcase-sized units for carrying smaller digital devices to wheeled portable enclosures that can house servers—providing what is essentially an EMP-shielded portable data center. And they could be a boon to anyone trying to prevent electronic eavesdropping—be it through active wireless bugs, radio retroreflectors used by nation-state intelligence agencies, or passive surveillance through anything from Wi-FI hacking to electromagnetic signals leaking from computer cables and monitors.
When electromagnetic radiation or static electricity is applied to a hollow conductor, it is transmitted over the surface of the conductor—preventing it from passing through the conductor's interior. In 1992, I was working for a defense contractor on a networking project for a military customer, and we were trying to figure out how to run CAT5 Ethernet cables through a conduit shared with electrical cables without electromagnetic interference.
That's why the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs) used by intelligence agencies and the military are constructed within carefully configured Faraday cages—to keep adversaries from eavesdropping and to keep any data within emanations from computers and communications devices inside the SCIF from leaking out. But the materials used in the Faraday Cases products essentially create small, inexpensive mobile SCIFs. They could even conceivably be used to set up temporary secure electronic facilities just about anywhere,  as well as providing protection from lightning and other sources of electromagnetic pulses (EMPs).
Just as generators create electricity by passing a wire through a magnetic field, a strong electromagnetic wave can create current within anything conductive it passes through. A lightning strike outside my house a few years ago didn't get past my surge suppressors, but it still killed everything connected to my hard-wired Ethernet because of the voltage induced in my cable runs. Ars is looking forward to conducting some lab tests on the company's gear when it's fully available. And now that material is being used to create cases and computer enclosures that are essentially lightweight Faraday cages—containing electromagnetic radiation from digital devices and shielding them from electronic eavesdropping or electromagnetic pulse attacks.


The cases and enclosures are being marketed not just to the military but to consumers, corporations, and first responders as well.
And in some cases, they could make it possible to create the kind of secure spaces used by government agencies to prevent eavesdropping nearly anywhere. In a stroke of genius, my colleague Steve Lewis came up with the perfect solution: running the Ethernet cables through PVC pipes covered externally with anti-static spray, a conductive polymer.
The nickel-coated carbon fibers created by Conductive Composites can be combined with plastic resins and be injection-molded into just about any shape standard plastic can take, at similar weight. While more heavily shielded wires like monitor cables protected some ports on my computers, some of the USB ports plugged into longer cables got fried.
But the same NiCVD materials used in the Faraday Cases can be used as wire shielding, or as conduit material to enclose unshielded cables. Perhaps it will help us prevent unintentional Wi-Fi attacks on the mobile phones and computers of people walking or driving past the Ars Technology Lab cyber-range. Ars got a brief hands-on with some of the materials at the Association of the United States Army expo this week. As a result, a rolling Faraday Cases computer enclosure weighs about as much by itself as a rolling suitcase.



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