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#335751 - 14th Jul 2009 10:36am Snooping through the power socket
MissGuided Offline

Wiki Guardian

Registered: 18th Jul 2008
Posts: 9995
Loc: Back of the wardrobe
For the geeks smile

Power sockets can be used to eavesdrop on what people type on a computer.

Security researchers found that poor shielding on some keyboard cables means useful data can be leaked about each character typed.

By analysing the information leaking onto power circuits, the researchers could see what a target was typing.

The attack has been demonstrated to work at a distance of up to 15m, but refinement may mean it could work over much longer distances.

Hotel attack

"Our goal is to show that information leaks in the most unexpected ways and can be retrieved," wrote Andrea Barisani and Daniele Bianco, of security firm Inverse Path, in a paper describing their work.

The research focused on the cables used to connect PS/2 keyboards to desktop PCs.

Usefully, said the pair, the six wires inside a PS/2 cable are typically "close to each other and poorly shielded". This means that information travelling along the data wire, when a key is pressed, leaks onto the earth (ground in the US) wire in the same cable.

The earth wire, via the PC's power unit, ultimately connects to the plug in the power socket, and from there information leaks out onto the circuit supplying electricity to a room.

Even better, said the researchers, data travels along PS/2 cables one bit at a time and uses a clock speed far lower than any other PC component. Both these qualities make it easy to pick out voltage changes caused by key presses.

A digital oscilloscope was used to gather data about voltage changes on a power line and filters were used to remove those caused by anything other than the keyboard.

"The PS/2 signal square wave is preserved with good quality... and can be decoded back to the original keystroke information," wrote the pair in a paper describing their work.

They demonstrated it working over distances of 1, 5, 10 and 15m from a target, far enough to suggest it could work in a hotel or office.

"The test performed in the laboratory represent a worst case scenario for this type of measurement, which along with acceptable results emphasizes the feasibility of the attack on normal conditions," they added.

The pair said their research was "work in progress" and expect the equipment to get more sensitive as it is refined.

The attack is due to be demonstrated at the Black Hat conference that takes place in Las Vegas from 25-30 July.


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#335830 - 14th Jul 2009 4:26pm Re: Snooping through the power socket [Re: MissGuided]
purfek Offline

Registered: 23rd Apr 2009
Posts: 431
Loc: oxton
seems abit far fetcvhed really, I mean say u have several computers in an office or building how could you isolate each one? I would have thought other high security information technology systems would have run on a protected power source too. Recording studios use a technology called "earth lift" or floating earth as do some theatre installations.

#335836 - 14th Jul 2009 4:43pm Re: Snooping through the power socket [Re: purfek]
diggingdeeper Offline

Wiki Guardian

Registered: 9th Jul 2008
Posts: 9422
Loc: Birkenhead
I've done this using a radio connected to another computer. Computers generate tons of radio cr*d but chosing the right frequency and they can tell you loads.

In the days of storing programs on cassettes you could receive that from an adjacent radio as well. I could do some stuff jsut by listening to it, I was a morse code operator and a musician which is why I tried - there was always a speed challenge with morse!

Luckily most stuff is too fast these days and hence has a wide bandwidth that overlaps with other stuff making it more difficult to isolate what you want, but not mpossible, just less accuracy.
In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act. George Orwell

When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser. Socrates

#335903 - 14th Jul 2009 10:30pm Re: Snooping through the power socket [Re: diggingdeeper]
scoops Offline

Registered: 27th Oct 2008
Posts: 531
Loc: Lurking
Nice to see the beeb are keeping up to date with technology and reporting on security problems that were discovered as recently as 1972 wink
If it's stupid and it works, it ain't stupid.

#335905 - 14th Jul 2009 10:38pm Re: Snooping through the power socket [Re: scoops]
Sanchez Offline

Wiki Veteran

Registered: 17th Dec 2003
Posts: 8019
Loc: my house
my internet is sent through the mains with a convertor from pc world, so I firmly belive this is possible.
Uncertainty or not knowing causes depression, Im happy because I know I'm going to die one day!

#335907 - 14th Jul 2009 10:57pm Re: Snooping through the power socket [Re: Sanchez]
SoundLad Offline

Are you SoNutz?
Forum Master

Registered: 22nd Aug 2007
Posts: 2987
Loc: Birkenhead, United Kingdom
One of the oldesst tricks in the book.. Also if you know how.. Connect a scanner to the computer find certain frequencies and you can eavesdrop on the old pager some people still use it today.. Yep you can read peoples pager info lol smile
Lee Mills


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