— Network World — Attackers seeking to do harm or mischief to networks work with an ever expanding arsenal of tools that sometimes seem to be the stuff of spy fiction, but they are all too real.
Slideshow: 11 Security Companies to Watch
Here are 10 cloak-and-dagger ways, legal and illegal, to secretly tap
into networks and computers to capture data and conversations.
1. Wireless keyboard eavesdropping: Remote-exploit.org has released
an open source hardware design and accompanying software
for a device that captures then decrypts signals from
The device uses a wireless receiver that can be concealed
in clothing or disguised as a common object
that could be left on a desk near a PC to pick up signals.
Called Keykeriki, the technology targets 27MHz wireless keyboards
to exploit insecurities that remote-expoit.org discovered earlier.
The company plans to build and sell the hardware.
2. Wired keyboard eavesdropping: Electromagnetic pulses that keyboards
make to signal what key is being hit travel through
the grounding system of the keyboard and the computer itself
as well as the ground for the electrical wiring
in the building where the computer is plugged in.
Probes placed on the ground for the electric wiring
can pick up these electromagnetic fluctuations,
and they can be captured and translated into characters.
The potential for this type of eavesdropping has been known
for decades, and many experts believe spy agencies have
refined techniques that make it practical.
Andrea Barisani and Daniele Bianco, researchers for
network security consultancy Inverse Path,
are presenting their quick-and-dirty research on the topic
at this year's Black Hat USA conference in the hopes
of sparking more public research of these techniques.
3. Laptop eavesdropping via lasers: Bouncing lasers off laptops
and capturing the vibrations made as keys are struck give
attackers enough data to deduce what is being typed.
Each key makes a unique set of vibrations different from
any other. The space bar makes an even more unique set,
Barisani and Bianco say.
Language analysis software can help determine which set
of vibrations correspond to which key, and if the attacker
knows the language being used,
the message can be exposed, they say.
4. Commercial keyloggers: Early keyloggers were devices attached
in-line with keyboards, but they advanced to software tools
that grab keystrokes and store or send them to an attack server.
Commercial versions have the software loaded on memory sticks that
can dump the software on a computer and then
be reinserted later to download the collected data.
5. Cell phones as remotely activated bugs: Software loaded onto
certain models of cell phones can silence the ringers and cut off
the light displays that would normally be triggered
when calls are made to them.
The caller can then listen in on conversations in the room
where the phone is located.
According to press reports, the FBI received court permission
to use this technique to spy on
suspected Mafia members in New York.
6. Cell phone SIM card compromise: If attackers can get possession
of a cell phone briefly, they can use commercially available software
to download and read SIM cards and their store of phone numbers,
call logs, SMS messages, photos and so on.
For instance PhoneFile Pro is software on a USB stick
that claims to enable both the download and the display of the data.
7. Law enforcement wiretapping based on voice print: Phone company voice
switches include software that can search all conversations
going through it for voices that match sets of voiceprints.
Whenever the switch makes a match, it can trigger
a recording of the conversation and alert
law enforcement officials, says James Atkinson,
an expert in technical surveillance countermeasures.
The feature is designed to support communications assistance
for law enforcement (CALEA) -- the law that requires
phone companies to provide wiretapping access
under court order to specific communications traffic.
8. Remote capture of computer data: Under a sketchy technique called
Computer and Internet Protocol Address Verifier (CIPAV),
the FBI has remotely tracked down data
about individual computers.
Details of the technology have never been publicly revealed,
but they were used to track down high-school students
who sent e-mail bomb threats.
CIPAV grabs IP and MAC addresses, running processes,
visited Web sites, versions of operating systems,
registered owner and logging of computers
the target computers connect to. It is believed the software
that does this is dropped in via exploiting instant messaging.
9. Cable TV as an exploitable network: Because most cable TV networks
are essentially hubbed, any node can monitor any other node's traffic,
says James Atkinson, an expert in technical
surveillance countermeasures. By and large security is rudimentary
and the encryption used could be hacked by someone
with basic technical skills and readily
available decryption tools, he says.
10. Cell phone monitoring: Commercially available software claims
to capture cell phone conversations and texting.
Attackers need to get physical access to the phone
to upload the software that enables this.
There are several commercial brands on the market,
but there are also online complaints that the software
doesn't work as advertised or is more complicated
to use than the vendors let on.