Compromising Electromagnetic Emanations of Wired and Wireless Keyboards

Computer keyboards are often used to transmit confidential data such as passwords. Since they contain electronic components, keyboards eventually emit electromagnetic waves. These emanations could reveal sensitive information such as keystrokes. The technique generally used to detect compromising emanations is based on a wide-band receiver, tuned on a specific frequency. However, this method may not be optimal since a significant amount of information is lost during the signal acquisition. Our approach is to acquire the raw signal directly from the antenna and to process the entire captured electromagnetic spectrum. Thanks to this method, we detected four different kinds of compromising electromagnetic emanations generated by wired and wireless keyboards. These emissions lead to a full or a partial recovery of the keystrokes. We implemented these side-channel attacks and our best practical attack fully recovered 95\% of the keystrokes of a PS/2 keyboard at a distance up to 20 meters, even through walls. We tested 12 different keyboard models bought between 2001 and 2008 (PS/2, USB, wireless and laptop). They are all vulnerable to at least one of the four attacks. We conclude that most of modern computer keyboards generate compromising emanations (mainly because of the manufacturer cost pressures in the design). Hence, they are not safe to transmit confidential information.

Published in:
Proceedings of the 18th USENIX Security Symposium, 1-16
Presented at:
18th USENIX Security Symposium (Usenix Security '09), Montreal, Canada, August 10-14, 2009
Montreal, Canada, USENIX Association
This paper received the Outstanding Student Paper Award

 Record created 2009-08-18, last modified 2018-01-28

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