Wired keyboards emit electromagnetic waves, because they contain eletronic components. These eletromagnetic radiation could reveal sensitive information such as keystrokes. Although Kuhn already tagged keyboards as risky, we did not find any experiment or evidence proving or refuting the practical feasibility to remotely eavesdrop keystrokes, especially on modern keyboards.
To determine if wired keyboards generate compromising emanations, we measured the electromagnetic radiations emitted when keys are pressed. To analyze compromising radiations, we generally use a receiver tuned on a specific frequency. However, this method may not be optimal: the signal does not contain the maximal entropy since a significant amount of information is lost.
Our approach was to acquire the signal directly from the antenna and to work on the whole captured electromagnetic spectrum.
We found 4 different ways (including the Kuhn attack) to fully or partially recover keystrokes from wired keyboards at a distance up to 20 meters, even through walls. We tested 11 different wired keyboard models bought between 2001 and 2008 (PS/2, USB and laptop). They are all vulnerable to at least one of our 4 attacks.
We conclude that wired computer keyboards sold in the stores generate compromising emanations (mainly because of the cost pressures in the design). Hence they are not safe to transmit sensitive information. No doubt that our attacks can be significantly improved, since we used relatively unexpensive equipments.
Here are two video examples:
Reading our newsletter every Monday will keep you up-to-date with security news.
Receive a daily digest of the latest security news.