Hardware

Security News Roundup: Researchers successfully eavesdrop on wired keyboards

This week's security events include news of an out-of-band update by Microsoft for a new critical flaw in Windows, experts predicting that the botnet scourge will reach mobile devices as early as next year, a serious vulnerability in the RealVNC client, and how researchers successfully eavesdropped on wired keyboards.

Microsoft issues out-of-band update for newly uncovered critical flaw in Windows

Microsoft moved quickly today to release an out-of-band update to fix a newly discovered critical flaw. The vulnerability documented in Microsoft Security Bulletin MS08-067 is particularly troublesome as it could be exploited by a remote attacker to take over Windows computers without the need for any user interaction.

MSRC (Microsoft Security Response Center) security program manager Christopher Budd noted that, "... the vulnerability is potentially wormable on those older versions of Windows," explaining Microsoft's swift action.

In a blog post, Budd also detailed how the vulnerability was uncovered:

"We discovered this vulnerability as part of our research into a limited series of targeted malware attacks against Windows XP systems that we discovered about two weeks ago through our ongoing monitoring. As we investigated these attacks we found they were utilizing a new vulnerability and initiated our Software Security Incident Response Process (SSIRP)."

The flaw has been labeled as "Critical" in Windows XP, and "Important" in Windows Vista. In the meantime, it has grown more important than ever to patch if you have not already done so: Attack code has already surfaced - mere hours after Microsoft posted details of the critical bug.

Experts predict botnet malice to reach mobile devices in 2009

The security experts from the Georgia Institute of Technology thinks that the botnet scourge will spread to mobile devices as early as 2009. Not only will criminals take aim at data stored on mobile and Smartphones, bot-driven DDoS attacks on the mobile phone network are also likely scenarios.

The report concludes with the admission that new types of protection will be necessary for mobile devices, given that traditional antivirus protection results in an inevitable shortening of battery life, which is understandably unpopular.

You can read more about this issue here. Alternatively, you can access the summary of the report here: Emerging Cyber Threats Report for 2009. (pdf)

Vulnerability in RealVNC's viewer opens hole in client

An error in RealVNC's free viewer contains an error which opens the door for an attacker to execute arbitrary code. A victim will have to connect to a malicious - or compromised server first though. In addition, the remote code execution will also inherit the rights of the user that is currently logged in.

This flaw is particularly troublesome because it allows an attacker to compromise additional hosts without having to search for them; a machine running VNC server software is only ever run to allow VNC clients to connect.

The bug can be found in RealVNC 4.1.2. Users are urged to upgrade to version 4.1.3, which fixes the vulnerability. You can check out the release notes for all the versions in VNC Free Edition 4.1.x for more information.

Researchers successfully eavesdrop on wired keyboards

By using an antenna, researchers were able to successfully eavesdrop on wired keyboards from a distance of up to 20 meters. It is believed to be the first such experiment in which the electromagnetic radiation emitted from depressed keys on keyboards is intercepted and interpreted.

Researchers Sylvain Pasini and Martin Vuagnoux subjected 11 different wired keyboards bought between 2001 and 2008 to four different attack methods. The result: All of the keyboards were susceptible to at least one of the attacks. Because relatively inexpensive equipment was used, the team has no doubt that their attack can be significantly improved.

Two videos showing the eavesdrop attack are available on the researcher's Web site. Both videos showed the attack being implemented with the second video showing the capture of keystrokes through an office wall.

Feel free to to discuss the various security events here.

About

Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.

2 comments
matthill
matthill

At first I was really excited for the keyboard eavesdropping - however, once I started to watch their videos I was a bit dissappointed. While it is quite amazing that they are able to capture and decode the input from the keyboard just from the radiation - the constraints of the experiment make me think the real world applicability is nearly zero. I'd like to see if their attacks remain functional when there is a monitor or PSU present - as in a real world situation, those would both be present. Still though - I never would've imagined it possible even in the scenario they set up!

paulmah
paulmah

This week's security events include news of an out-of-band update by Microsoft for a new critical flaw in Windows, experts predicting that the botnet scourge will reach mobile devices as early as next year, a serious vulnerability in the RealVNC client, and how researchers successfully eavesdropped on wired keyboards.