Microphones Listen to Your… Monitor?

A song by Rockwell, “Somebody’s Watching Me” might be the anthem for the tin foil hat crowd. But a new paper reveals that it might be just as scary to have someone listening to you. Researchers have used common microphones to listen in on computer monitors. The demonstration includes analyzing audio to determine input from virtual keyboards and even a way to tell if people are surfing the web during a Google Hangout session.

Reading monitors based on electronic emissions is nothing new — ask Wim van Eck or read about TEMPEST. What makes this worrisome is that we constantly have live microphones around our computers. Webcams, phones, the latest smart assistant. Even some screens have built-in microphones. According to the paper, you could even pick up data from recorded audio. The paper has three main goals: extract display text, distinguish between different websites on screen, and extracting text entered with a virtual keyboard.

The analysis looked at 31 different screens. There were 12 distinct models from 6 different vendors. They did use a special VGA cable to tap the vertical sync to help manage the data, but they claim this was only an aid and not essential. They also used a high-end sound setup with a 192 kHz sampling rate.

Measuring the sound made by different display patterns was empirical. The authors think the mechanism is from subtle changes in the vibrations of the power supply components due to changes in current consumption. The refresh rate of the monitor also plays a part.

Armed with the proof of concept, the team went on to use an LG V20 cellphone and via a Hangouts call. Imagine if the person on the other end of your call could tell when you were reading Hackaday instead of paying attention to the call.

Different types of monitors need to be learned for best accuracy. It appears that reading small text may have problems, too. Even website detection depends on training. Still, maybe the tin hat people aren’t exactly wrong.

If you want to try your hand at reading the RF emissions, software defined radio is your friend. We’ll be interested to see if anyone duplicates the acoustic method in this paper, though.

TEMPEST In A Software Defined Radio

In 1985, [Wim van Eck] published several technical reports on obtaining information the electromagnetic emissions of computer systems. In one analysis, [van Eck] reliably obtained data from a computer system over hundreds of meters using just a handful of components and a TV set. There were obvious security implications, and now computer systems handling highly classified data are TEMPEST shielded – an NSA specification for protection from this van Eck phreaking.

Methods of van Eck phreaking are as numerous as they are awesome. [Craig Ramsay] at Fox It has demonstrated a new method of this interesting side-channel analysis using readily available hardware (PDF warning) that includes the ubiquitous RTL-SDR USB dongle.

The experimental setup for this research involved implementing AES encryption on two FPGA boards, a SmartFusion 2 SOC and a Xilinx Pynq board. After signaling the board to run its encryption routine, analog measurement was performed on various SDRs, recorded, processed, and each byte of the key recovered.

The results from different tests show the AES key can be extracted reliably in any environment, provided the antenna is in direct contact with the device under test. Using an improvised Faraday cage constructed out of mylar space blankets, the key can be reliably extracted at a distance of 30 centimeters. In an anechoic chamber, the key can be extracted over a distance of one meter. While this is a proof of concept, if this attack requires direct, physical access to the device, the attacker is an idiot for using this method; physical access is root access.

However, this is a novel use of software defined radio. As far as the experiment itself is concerned, the same result could be obtained much more quickly with a more relevant side-channel analysis device. The ChipWhisperer, for example, can extract AES keys using power signal analysis. The ChipWhisperer does require a direct, physical access to a device, but if the alternative doesn’t work beyond one meter that shouldn’t be a problem.

TEMPEST: a Tin Foil Hat for Your Electronics and Their Secrets

Electronics leak waves and if you know what you’re doing you can steal people’s data using this phenomenon. How thick is your tinfoil hat? And you sure it’s thick enough? Well, it turns out that there’s a (secret) government standard for all of this: TEMPEST. Yes, all-caps. No, it’s not an acronym. It’s a secret codename, and codenames are more fun WHEN SHOUTED OUT LOUD!

The TEMPEST idea in a nutshell is that electronic devices leak electromagnetic waves when they do things like switch bits from ones to zeros or move electron beams around to make images on CRT screens. If an adversary can remotely listen in to these unintentional broadcasts, they can potentially figure out what’s going on inside your computer. Read on and find out about the history of TEMPEST, modern research, and finally how you can try it out yourself at home!

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Eavesdrop on keyboards wirelessly

Every time you press a key on your keyboard, a small burst of electromagnetic radiation is let out. This radiation can be captured and decoded. Though it only affects some models, this is pretty serious. They tested 11 different keyboards and they were all vulnerable to at least one of the four methods of attack. Tests have shown that the data can be read through walls and up to 65 feet away. That is pretty scary stuff. Someone could be setting up in the apartment or office right next to yours to listen to every keystroke you type.  Check out the second video after the break.

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