Robert McMillan
IT World
March 13, 2009

That PC keyboard you’re using may be giving away your passwords. Researchers say they’ve discovered new ways to read what you’re typing by aiming special wireless or laser equipment at the keyboard or by simply plugging into a nearby electrical socket.

[efoods]Two separate research teams, from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne and security consultancy Inverse Path have taken a close look at the electromagnetic radiation that is generated every time a computer keyboard is tapped. It turns out that this keystroke radiation is actually pretty easy to capture and decode — if you’re a computer hacker-type, that is.

The Ecole Polytechnique team did its work over the air. Using an oscilloscope and an inexpensive wireless antenna, the team was able to pick up keystrokes from virtually any keyboard, including laptops. “We discovered four different ways to recover the keystroke of a keyboard,” said Matin Vuagnoux, a Ph.D. student at the university. With the keyboard’s cabling and nearby power wires acting as antennas for these electromagnetic signals, the researchers were able to read keystrokes with 95 percent accuracy over a distance of up to 20 meters (22 yards), in ideal conditions.

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