Electromagnetic eavesdropping is not a new phenomena, but it is one that was previously thought to be impossible on the newer range of keyboards. Unfortunately, as two Swiss researchers have proven, this isn’t the case, and in fact, key presses typed in to wired keyboards can be analyzed up to 65 feet away.
Computer users are already vulnerable to hackers, viruses, spambots etc etc, but until today, I thought the only way a keyboard could be compromised was by the use of a keylogger. It seems I was wrong, and given the right equipment and technical know how, your keyboard could be vulnerable, even from a distance.
According to The Register, Martin Vuagnoux and Sylvain Pasini, both researchers from the Security and Cryptography Laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland, conducted experiments which proved this long-distance keystroke detection was possible.
In a nutshell, hackers or spies could work out what you were typing on your keyboard monitoring the electromagnetic radiation given off with each press of a key. Four separate attack methods are demonstrated by the pair, all of which can affect PS/2, universal serial bus, or laptop keyboards.
The scariest demonstration, seen in the video below, shows how keystrokes can be detected in an adjacent room from 20 feet away, using a large antenna. The researchers tested 11 different models of wired keyboard produced between 2001 and 2008. All were vulnerable.
The pair discuss their findings on the LASEC website, and finish by scarily informing us all:
We conclude that wired computer keyboards sold in the stores generate compromising emanations (mainly because of the cost pressures in the design). Hence they are not safe to transmit sensitive information.
This scares me no end because I’m already someone who is quite paranoid about online security, hackers, and identity theft. The fact that it’s possible to have your security compromised in this way while sitting in your own house or office, and with the hackers having not ever touched your computer or keyboard in any way is the stuff of nightmares.
The paper detailing the method involved and the researchers findings is currently under peer review to be published at a later date.