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Cheap Keyboards Vulnerable To Wireless Data Sniffing

Swiss researchers have found out that keystrokes can be recorded wirelessly even when a wired keyboard is used by tracking its electromagnetic signature.

Researchers Martin Vuagnoux and Sylvain Pasini from the Lausanne Security and Cryptography Laboratory published a report in which they (opens in new tab) showed that all the 11 keyboards tested during the research and produced since 2000 are vulnerable to the hack.

They were able to convert signals collected with the help of a radio antenna into keystrokes that were typed almost in real time.

Both researchers were particularly critical of the fact that cheaper components were the main reason why wireless keyboard sniffing is so easy to put in place.

Furthermore, they acknowledged that using more powerful equipment would certainly improve the distance from which they would be able to carry out the hack; the Swiss-based team managed to sniff data from 20m in their laboratory.

Their conclusions - that cheap wired computer keyboards are intrinsically unsafe - should kickstart a niche market of expensive "secured" keyboards.

Since all devices that emit electromagnetic waves that could eventually be picked up, even PINs at ATM machines or signals from CRT or LCD monitors could be vulnerable to this.

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.