Keyboards can be snooped remotely

October 21, 2008 – 12:55 PM

Computer keystrokes can be snooped from afar by detecting the slight electromagnetic radiation emitted when a key is pressed, according to new research.

Other security experts have theorised keyboards were vulnerable to such detection, wrote Sylvain Pasini and Martin Vuagnoux, both doctorate students with the Security and Cryptography Laboratory at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.

But Vuagnoux and Pasini believe theirs is the first set of experiments showing such spying is feasible. They blamed cost pressures on keyboard manufacturers for not making keyboards more snoop proof.

Keyboards “are not safe to transmit sensitive information,” they wrote in an entry on the school’s website. “No doubt that our attacks can be significantly improved since we used relatively inexpensive equipment.”

The researchers tested 11 different wired keyboard models produced between 2001 and 2008, including some with USB connectors and keyboards embedded in laptops. All were vulnerable to one of four surveillance methods.

Two videos posted show two different experiments, both of which accurately picked up the typed text.


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