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Encryption Key for Wireless Keyboards Cracked

A security firm claims that it has cracked the initial encryption applied in various wireless keyboards.

Security researchers at Dreamlab Technologies have said that they now know the encryption code used in the wireless keyboards of Microsoft, and in the keyboards' base stations. Dreamlab is therefore able to read all keystrokes hit on Microsoft's keyboards that exchange the messages amongst each other on the 27MHz frequency band.

The security firm used an ordinary radio receiver and a sound card, which, with appropriate software, enabled it to intercept and decrypt the radio frequencies that were communicated between the PC or laptop computer and the keyboard. This type of attack may result in various kinds of mischief, like logging keystroke to seize login details of e-mail accounts or Internet banking sites. The flaw, however, does not affect keyboards that employ Bluetooth for exchanging messages.

Dreamlab decoded the encryption code used in Microsoft Wireless Optical Desktop 2000 and 1000 keyboards. As majority of the wide range of wireless products of Microsoft are designed with a common technology, there are chances that other products too would be insecure. Researchers Philipp Schrodel and Max Moser were able to successfully eavesdrop on traffic from ten meters with the help of an ordinary radio receiver. They believed that with very sensitive receivers, they could record keystrokes from even greater distances.

Technically speaking, the keyboard encryption is based on a simple operation that runs logically to join each character typed with a byte selected randomly that both the keyboards and its base station agree upon. But with only 256 Bytes available, a computer using a common dictionary attack could take just seconds to find the exact encryption key.

Schrodel and Moser claim that it was very easy to decrypt as the devices employ an uncomplicated XOR mechanism to code the encryption and the codes are only of one byte. According to the researchers, it would be easy for a PDA too, which has a low speed ARM-CPU to determine the combination fast.

The only prevention from these kinds of attack is therefore in not using such keyboards.

Related article: Encryption Technology Enhances Protection of Data

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