Now this is an interesting twist on an oldschool method of hacking, the monitoring of electromagnetic radiation.
You’d think it’d be easier to sniff the traffic from a wireless keyboard, but generally it’s not as they tend to be encrypted. Where as the electromagnetic radiation given off by a wired keyboard is not shielded or protected it any way.
All you need to do is have the equipment and the know-how to decipher it.
Swiss researchers have demonstrated a variety of ways to eavesdrop on the sensitive messages computer users type by monitoring their wired keyboards. At least 11 models using a wide range of connection types are vulnerable.
The researchers from the Security and Cryptography Laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne are able to capture keystrokes by monitoring the electromagnetic radiation of PS/2, universal serial bus, or laptop keyboards. They’ve outline four separate attack methods, some that work at a distance of as much as 65 feet from the target.
In one video demonstration, researchers Martin Vuagnoux and Sylvain Pasini sniff out the the keystrokes typed into a standard keyboard using a large antenna that’s about 20 to 30 feet away in an adjacent room.
It appears to work on both the older PS/2 keyboards and new USB keyboards and even laptop keyboard from a distance of up to 65 feet! That’s easily far enough to jack the data from a carpark, adjacent office or nearby hotel room.
I’d imagine the equipment required is quite bulky though.
“We conclude that wired computer keyboards sold in the stores generate compromising emanations (mainly because of the cost pressures in the design),” they write here. “Hence they are not safe to transmit sensitive information.”
No doubt, electromagnetic eavesdropping dates back to the mid 1980s, if not earlier. But Vuagnoux says many of today’s keyboards have been adapted to prevent those attacks from working. The research shows that even these keyboards are vulnerable to electromagnetic sniffing.
The video demonstrations show a computer that reads input from antennas that monitor a specified frequency. In both cases, the computer was able to determine the keystrokes typed on keyboards connected to a laptop and power supply and LCD monitors were disconnected to prevent potential power transmissions or wireless communications. Vuagnous said in an email that the attacks would still work even if the power supplies and monitors were plugged in.
It seems the modifications made to keyboards to prevent this kind of sniffing has either been removed to save cost or was never tested properly in the first place.
So be careful! If what you are doing is super sensitive you might be better off using an on-screen keyboard.
Source: The Register