SciTechBlog   « Back to Blog Main
November 12, 2008

Keyboards are silent transmitters

Posted: 09:37 AM ET

Your wireless internet connection is secure, you have anti-virus software, and your firewall is up.  You think you are safe from identity theft but there is a new way to gather information from your computer.  An internet connection is not even needed.83263989

 

This time the culprit is your keyboard.  With each keystroke a slight electromagnetic wave is emitted.  A simple wire cable or a small antenna can pick up these waves. With the right computer software keystrokes are deciphered.   These waves can even travel through walls.

 

11 different PS/2, USB and laptop keyboards were tested by Sylvain Pasini and Martin Vuagnoux.  They are doctorate students at the Security and Cryptography Laboratory at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.  For their experiment they attached a keyboard to a laptop that was running off of battery power. They unplugged the laptop to prevent electrical interference.  Each one of the keyboards tested was vulnerable to at least one of the four detection methods that Sylvain and Martin have discovered.  So far they have been able to detect keystrokes up to 65 feet away.  They believe a farther distance can be achieved by using better equipment.

 

Both Pasini and Vuagnoux blame computer manufacturers for this vulnerability.  However, the security risk could be lowered by tweaking the production of keyboards.

 

Do you feel that this could be a legitimate threat as ATM pads are even vulnerable according to Pasini and Vuagnoux?

 

Chris Piatt      CNN Science and Technology

 

Filed under: computers • consumer tech


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