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Hack Into Laptops Via Power Outlet, Lasers

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 31 comments

A pair or researchers will demonstrate how its possible to hack a laptop via the power outlet, or by using a laser pointer device.

Is using a laptop getting dangerous? Thanks to a new exploit used by hackers, your information may not be safe out in public. In a recent article published by Network World, hackers can grab keyboard signals through its unshielded wiring; signals leak into the ground wire in a cable, and then travel into the laptop's electrical system. Bit streams generated by the keyboards that indicate what keys have been struck create voltage fluctuations in the grounds, according to the site. Thus if plugged in, hackers retrieve the information through the power outlet.

However, attackers can still gain access when laptops are unplugged. By using a cheap laser, a hacker can retrieve keystrokes by pointing the laser on a shiny part of the laptop, or a shiny object nearby. The hacker then aligns a receiver to capture the reflected light beam; the light captures to modulations stemming from vibrations caused by striking the keys.

“The only thing you need for successful attacks are either the electrical grid or a distant line of sight, no expensive piece of equipment is required,” Barisani and Bianco said. The equipment needed to carry out the power-line attack could cost as little as $500. The laser attack gear costs less: $100 if the attacker already owns a laptop with a sound card.

Both hacks will be demonstrated by Andrea Barisani and Danielle Bianco of Inverse Path later this month at the Black Hat USA 2009 security conference in Las Vegas.

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Top Comments
  • 21 Hide
    _Cubase_ , July 14, 2009 1:24 AM
    I have a better idea to steal someone's important information using a laser pointer. Shine it in their face to stun them, punch them out, grab the notebook and run!
  • 14 Hide
    matt87_50 , July 14, 2009 12:07 AM
    hmm, article needs more awesome... Quick! add LAZERZZZ!!
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , July 14, 2009 12:22 AM
    This kinda stuff is possible in theory, but no need to worry about it in real life.

    For the laser, a single shift of the keyboard and everything gets skewed. For the power outlet, someone turning on a lightbulb would increase load on the grid and scramble the signal.

    So it is possible, but don't expect any of this in real life.
Other Comments
    Display all 31 comments.
  • 1 Hide
    apache_lives , July 13, 2009 11:10 PM
    oh noes! dont steels my useless informations!
  • 0 Hide
    doomtomb , July 13, 2009 11:46 PM
    Woah this stuff sounds crazy. I thought a computer would be safe it was completely isolated from networks but through the power outlet is scary. This sounds like radical stuff.
  • 14 Hide
    matt87_50 , July 14, 2009 12:07 AM
    hmm, article needs more awesome... Quick! add LAZERZZZ!!
  • 3 Hide
    Upendra09 , July 14, 2009 12:07 AM
    sounds way too complicated for hacking for money unless the money is alot
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , July 14, 2009 12:22 AM
    This kinda stuff is possible in theory, but no need to worry about it in real life.

    For the laser, a single shift of the keyboard and everything gets skewed. For the power outlet, someone turning on a lightbulb would increase load on the grid and scramble the signal.

    So it is possible, but don't expect any of this in real life.
  • 2 Hide
    dingumf , July 14, 2009 12:55 AM
    WHY DOES TOM'S GUIDE POST OLD NEWS!!! THIS IS LIKE SO 1995!!!!!
  • 3 Hide
    doc70 , July 14, 2009 1:00 AM
    so, I challenge them to hack my unplugged laptop inside my window tinted car...
  • 21 Hide
    _Cubase_ , July 14, 2009 1:24 AM
    I have a better idea to steal someone's important information using a laser pointer. Shine it in their face to stun them, punch them out, grab the notebook and run!
  • -9 Hide
    _Cubase_ , July 14, 2009 1:25 AM
    I have a better idea to steal someone's important information using a laser pointer. Shine it in their face to stun them, punch them out, grab the notebook and run!
  • 2 Hide
    Swivelguy , July 14, 2009 1:44 AM
    Wow, nice quadruple post. If I'm reading this correctly, the laser method just gets you the vibrations of the user typing from afar... OH NOES, SOMEBODY'S STEALING MY TYPING NOISES!! Wouldn't a parabolic microphone do the same thing without needing all of the converting-laser-back-to-sound business?
  • -2 Hide
    computabug , July 14, 2009 2:35 AM
    Well maybe if a hacker and a stupid Windows user (using IE of course) were sitting in an isolated enclosed room and the Windows user was REALLY stupid, it may be possible to get their useless info if the hacker was very lucky :p 
  • 1 Hide
    pythy , July 14, 2009 4:06 AM
    the laser capturing vibrations is such a stupid idea...... unless i was the only person in the area on my laptop, say a cafe, there will be other people walking around causing vibrations which would interfere with the signals from my keystrokes. Even if there was nobody walking around and it's just me and my laptop causing the vibrations, I think I'd notice the weird looking guy in the corner aiming a frigging laser at me
  • 0 Hide
    frozenlead , July 14, 2009 5:05 AM
    doc70so, I challenge them to hack my unplugged laptop inside my window tinted car...


    That would actually probably make the laser work better, with more reflected light. Depends on what kind of laser you use, though.
  • 1 Hide
    spectrewind , July 14, 2009 5:40 AM
    I think, as many of you probably do too, that there are some serious problems with this set of ideas. What about the inverter on the power supply? AC in, AC out, DC internals?
    What if I run my vacuum cleaner on the same 15A circuit as the laptop? I know my lights dim slightly when doing this as it is a series circuit. Run a blender (motor device)? Introduce other unshielded cables to the power cord's vicinity? Variable induction fields, magnets, etc?

    Sounds very hypothetical to me.
  • 2 Hide
    mman74 , July 14, 2009 8:07 AM
    Absolute nonsense! No way you will be able to detect any voltage fluctuations - if they even exist - over the numerous apps that are running on that computer drawing different resources, plus all the other appliances that are plugged in that building.
    The Laser LOS trick is even more BS.
    No if you want to do it right, a more plausible way is to find a trans-dimensional wormhole that goes back in time and send a camera through it. It's gotta work - I mean I saw Denzel Washington and Val Kilmer do it on Deja Vu.
  • 0 Hide
    mman74 , July 14, 2009 8:12 AM
    _cubase_I have a better idea to steal someone's important information using a laser pointer. Shine it in their face to stun them, punch them out, grab the notebook and run!

    I don't know why everyone is dissing Cubase's idea, sounds more pluasible than the other 2. I am sure the CIA has better tricks up their sleeve than measuring voltages and laser vibration measurement - which I beleive only works on sound against a glass pane - and even then you get a really crap sound reproduction.
  • 2 Hide
    pirateboy , July 14, 2009 9:19 AM
    _cubase_I have a better idea to steal someone's important information using a laser pointer. Shine it in their face to stun them, punch them out, grab the notebook and run!


    lol
  • 0 Hide
    d_kuhn , July 14, 2009 11:49 AM
    In order to monitor the ground line and actually get a usable signal you'd need to be right at the power outlet that the machine is plugged into... it's not like some guy is going to clamp onto the ground strap outside your house and do it. It still may be useful for someone who has access to your home but it's not a particulaly useful hack compared to say a keylogger that can be remotely installed and monitored.

    The laser thing doesn't make any sense... you might get a vibration but a vibration by itself only tells you a key was hit... not which one. You could conceiveably use multiple lasers to triangulate but damn that would be difficult to setup and get to work reliably.
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