Sunday, June 15, 2008

Of Teapots and Computer Security

With all the various ways to snoop on what people are doing on their computers, here's yet another one:
In two separate pieces of research, teams at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and at Saarland University in Saarbrucken, Germany, describe attacks that seem ripped from the pages of spy novels. In Saarbrucken, the researchers have read computer screens from their tiny reflections on everyday objects such as glasses, teapots, and even the human eye. The UC team has worked out a way to analyse a video of hands typing on a keyboard in order to guess what was being written.
Clear Shot can analyse video of hand movements on a computer keyboard and transcribe them into text. It's far from perfect - Cova says the software is accurate about 40 percent of the time - but it's good enough for someone to get the gist of what was being typed.

The software also suggests alternative words that may have been typed and more often then not the real word is in the top five suggestions provided by Clear Shot, Cova said.

Clear Shot works with an everyday web cam, but the Saarland University team has taken thing up a notch, training telescopes on a variety of targets that just might happen to catch a computer monitor's reflection: teapots, glasses, bottles, spoons, and even the human eye.
Obviously, this method requires a visual connection, either direct or indirect (e.g., via reflection) in order to work. It's basically a fancier form of visual ATM or phone calling card PIN stealing. But it's still kind of neat, don't you think?

Fortunately, we have a solution to this problem. Allow me to present the body-laptop privacy interface sock:

Let those computer hackers try snooping now. Ha! :)

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