Is wireless a security nightmare?

Some interesting news from Europe this week. It seems that certain wireless products are working just a little bit too well—namely HP’s wireless keyboards.

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By  Mark Sutton Published  January 24, 2003

Some interesting news from Europe this week. It seems that certain wireless products are working just a little bit too well—namely HP’s wireless keyboards.

A pair of neighbours in Norway discovered that the HP wireless keyboard not only has a range of a lot more than its stated 100 metres, but that the device can also create a huge security problem.

One of the neighbours was amazed when his PC kept writing documents on its own, without him even touching the keyboard. The mystery was solved when one of the documents that was being miraculously created on screen turned out to be a letter written by one of his neighbours.

He investigated, and it turned out that his neighbour, who lived some 150 metres away was using the same HP wireless keyboard. The signal was travelling through several walls and into the neighbour’s house.

Although the keyboard has some 200 different channels to choose between, the two had accidentally become synchronised. HP Norway’s helpful suggestion to this interesting new security flaw apparently was to avoid typing any sensitive information... the security guarantee for the product has since been withdrawn.

While the story is quite funny, it does raise questions on some of the fundamental problems of wireless. The technology is definitely a sell—I have recently changed both my home and office PCs over to wireless mice, and despite the speed that they go through batteries, I’ve been very pleased with the results—no more tangles or awkward operations from too-short cables is a good thing.

But to find that a device as simple as a keyboard, let alone a WLAN hub, is able to create a massive hole in security, even for home users has to cause some concern to the vendors and to their customers.

Withdrawing the security guarantee is no answer, obviously, not if the vendors aim for continued sales. Combined with reports about the infamous Pringle-tin wireless antennae, ‘war-driving’ and now these ‘leaky’ keyboards, wireless vendors must take steps, and fast, before public perception of wireless is permanently damaged.

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