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Wired Keyboards Safer for Sensitive Data Than Wireless? Think Again Part II

written by: •edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 5/6/2010

New research has revealed that wired keyboards put off an electromagnetic signature that could be used like a keylog

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    Wired Dangers

    While the big concern has been that a wireless keyboard could actually transmit data to an outsider, a new possibility is that wired ones aren’t any safer. A new experiment posted online shows that a wired keyboard would emit electromagnetic waves, because these devices contain electronic components. And in this case the electromagnetic radiation could reveal potentially sensitive information such as keystrokes.

    OK, so for the small office business user this is no more of a concern than having someone tap into your Bluetooth signal. But for the average consumer this is more worrisome because hackers could use this information to obtain keystrokes from ATMs and other public computer stations.

    In the tests online it was revealed that the electromagnetic radiation could reveal sensitive information, and the researchers found four different ways to fully or partially recover keystrokes form a distance up to 20 meters, and even through walls. That is worrisome because it would potentially mean an ATM could be electronically spied on from across a street! And this doesn’t even address how much electromagnetic energy could be circling us on an average day, but that’s a concern of a different nature.

    Given that this information could be thus easily retrieved from a keyboard the next question is whether each computer has its own unique electromagnetic signature. In other words is it even possible to tell what signals are coming from what keyboards and is there overlap of any kind where it is hard to tell what information corresponds to a particular machine?

    One thing is certain and that is in the digital age there is much more than a mere paper trail with private information out there. And for now there isn’t much that can be done, but in truth obtaining this information is probably so time consuming and difficult, not to mention costly, that most consumers need not worry. However, as we reported yesterday with cybercrime on the rise, let’s hope the boys with the dark sunglasses at the various alphabet agencies are watching this situation. That’s where the potential dangers of this type of digital keylogging becomes very scary indeed.