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Traditional Keyboard Sounds Can be Decoded By Listening Over a VoIP Connection, Researchers Say (onthewire.io) 57

Reader Trailrunner7 writes: Researchers have known for a long time that acoustic signals from keyboards can be intercepted and used to spy on users, but those attacks rely on grabbing the electronic emanation from the keyboard. New research from the University of California Irvine shows that an attacker, who has not compromised a target's PC, can record the acoustic emanations of a victim's keystrokes and later reconstruct the text of what he typed, simply by listening over a VoIP connection.

The researchers found that when connected to a target user on a Skype call, they could record the audio of the user's keystrokes. With a small amount of knowledge about the victim's typing style and the keyboard he's using, the researchers could accurately get 91.7 percent of keystrokes. The attack does not require any malware on the victim's machine and simply takes advantage of the way that VoIP software acquires acoustic emanations from the machine it's on.

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Traditional Keyboard Sounds Can be Decoded By Listening Over a VoIP Connection, Researchers Say

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  • by suso ( 153703 ) * on Wednesday October 19, 2016 @12:22PM (#53108651) Homepage Journal

    While their specific research may be new, the results are hardly new. Its been nearly 11 years since more original research was released [berkeley.edu] with similar results. Looks like this may be the first time Slashdot has reported this though.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    can they decode the sound of keystrokes on the crappy, staticy VOIP connection when "Bob" from "Microsoft" calls from Bangalore to tell me I owe money to the IRS.
  • with close to zero key throw,

    I imagine they're whisper silent, almost as if they were just a piece of glass.

    Besides people will only be typing short security-unimportant tweets on the damn things anyway, since real long-form documents will be a pain to type.

    • Perhaps one can listen to finger joints clicking?

    • with close to zero key throw,

      I imagine they're whisper silent, almost as if they were just a piece of glass.

      Besides people will only be typing short security-unimportant tweets on the damn things anyway, since real long-form documents will be a pain to type.

      Oh, so you've seen the new keyboards that AREN'T OUT YET???

    • apt-get install bucklespring (there's a Mac build, dunno how do you install there -- or if you even still can install anything not from the App Store)

      The author of this program [github.com] has sampled the sound of every key on a real Model M, so you can install this and pretend you have a keyboard for grown-ups. On the downside, everyone in your building can learn what you type without requiring a VoIP link.

  • I was just listening to a VOIP connection to 1 million monkeys typing. Here is their message:

    "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent..."

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The last time I saw the results of 1 million monkeys typing, it was mostly things like "Obama is a secret muslim communist working with Crooked Hillary to destroy America and take our guns!"

  • This isn't shocking. If you can match an acoustic signature you can figure it out. There have been tons of these "research" projects coming out of Universities lately. I guess this is what passes for research nowadays. I can write a program that can identify any car that drives by with good accuracy just by recording the sound the engine makes and matching it against known engine sounds. Ridiculous.
  • Use naturally occurring acoustic waves instead of EM waves?
    Is it patented?

    • TV remote controls used to be ultrasonic, and worked by striking small aluminum rods of slightly different length, to produce different (inaudible) tones.

      While those remote controls only had a few basic functions, I see no reason why this couldn't be replicated for a 104/105-key keyboard.

  • I used a technique back in the early 1990s where anyone using internet relay chat would have their keystrokes appear on my end. It was also 100% accurate, no microphone needed, and able to capture hundreds -- no, thousands of users at a time. I could capture dozens of conversations lasting hours sorted into "channels". It was fun for a while, I really should get back into it.

    </sarcasm>
    • I started to feel old when I realized that no one under the age of thirty will have any clue what you are talking about.
  • Sorry, but I think this news is from 90s or early 00s. I still clearly remember the effort to decode the sound of the keyboard, but then it was working with a particular keyboard and it was told that application has to be trained to decode clicks of another keyboard.

  • the housefly cam that's recording video of your keyboard from the ceiling,
    and the laser pointed at your office window that is recording the window vibrations as you proofread by mumbling to yourself as you write.

  • Researchers have known for a long time that acoustic signals from keyboards can be intercepted and used to spy on users, but those attacks rely on grabbing the electronic emanation from the keyboard.

    I don't get it. What are these electronic emanations which can be acoustically picked up?

  • Seriously, if it was possible to effectively translate the sounds made by a keyboard, then the computers used to record Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret data would all have to be located in windowless rooms where you could not capture said sounds.

    That's funny.

    As if some of us on here worked in such windowless rooms back in the 70s and 80s ....

    (grin)

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