Keyboard Sound Spying Gives Away What’s Being Typed

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Your very keyboard clicks and other keyboard sounds can give away what you are typing. That is the unsettling conclusion made by researchers at UC Berkeley this week, who announced that keyclicks and other keyboard sounds can be acoustically spied on and used to determine what is being typed.

Explains Doug Tygar, a UC Berkeley Computer Science Professor involved with the study, “It’s a form of acoustical spying that should raise red flags among computer security and privacy experts.”

The way that it works is horribly simple. You record or otherwise capture keyboard sounds, and feed them into a computer. That’s what the researchers did, taking snippets of ten minutes of audio of people typing away, and feeding the audio into a computer program which detected the slight differences between each keystroke. Once you know the language in which the typist is typing, the differences in key stroke become predictable. Couple that with knowing what the most common letters and combinations of letters in a given language are, and it’s pretty easy for a computer to turn those audible key clicks into the actual letters struck.

The implications are pretty frightening. Says Tygar, “If we were able to figure this out, it’s likely that people with less honorable intentions can – and have – as well.”

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2 thoughts on “Keyboard Sound Spying Gives Away What’s Being Typed

  1. This type of “spying” was purportedly being done by the good folks at NSA many, many years ago. There are plenty of legends about gifted people that were recruited to listen to taped telephone conversations from various sources that were being monitored by the Agency, listening to the background noise for typewriter activity. The use of hardware solutions didn’t hit the scene until much later due to the huge computational resources it took at the time the crunch all that analog data, as well as the less-than-optimum processing algorithms that were employed at the time.

  2. If anyone was to say that it work well, that would be BS. There are too many if’s and but’s to this. Like ‘but some people don’t hit keys with the same intensity’ and ‘only if someone typed a lot for the computer to “crack the code”‘. I’m sure you’d have to be listening in for awhile for the computer to put together the common audible clicks, determine intensity of the key press and the occasional angled or side hit of a key. Those would produce variances in the audible clicks. I believe the concept, but I don’t believe the simplicity of it. There are too many variables.

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