Entries Tagged "TEMPEST"

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Homemade TEMPEST Receiver

Tom’s Guide writes about home brew TEMPEST receivers:

Today, dirt-cheap technology and free software make it possible for ordinary citizens to run their own Tempest programs and listen to what their own — and their neighbors’ — electronic devices are doing.

Elliott, a researcher at Boston-based security company Veracode, showed that an inexpensive USB dongle TV tuner costing about $10 can pick up a broad range of signals, which can be “tuned” and interpreted by software-defined radio (SDR) applications running on a laptop computer.

Posted on November 4, 2019 at 6:06 AMView Comments

Practical TEMPEST Attack

Four researchers have demonstrated a TEMPEST attack against a laptop, recovering its keys by listening to its electrical emanations. The cost for the attack hardware was about $3,000.

News article:

To test the hack, the researchers first sent the target a specific ciphertext — ­in other words, an encrypted message.

“During the decryption of the chosen ciphertext, we measure the EM leakage of the target laptop, focusing on a narrow frequency band,” the paper reads. The signal is then processed, and “a clean trace is produced which reveals information about the operands used in the elliptic curve cryptography,” it continues, which in turn “is used in order to reveal the secret key.”

The equipment used included an antenna, amplifiers, a software-defined radio, and a laptop. This process was being carried out through a 15cm thick wall, reinforced with metal studs, according to the paper.

The researchers obtained the secret key after observing 66 decryption processes, each lasting around 0.05 seconds. “This yields a total measurement time of about 3.3 sec,” the paper reads. It’s important to note that when the researchers say that the secret key was obtained in “seconds,” that’s the total measurement time, and not necessarily how long it would take for the attack to actually be carried out. A real world attacker would still need to factor in other things, such as the target reliably decrypting the sent ciphertext, because observing that process is naturally required for the attack to be successful.

For half a century this has been a nation-state-level espionage technique. The cost is continually falling.

Posted on February 23, 2016 at 5:49 AMView Comments


There’s a new paper on a low-cost TEMPEST attack against PC cryptography:

We demonstrate the extraction of secret decryption keys from laptop computers, by nonintrusively measuring electromagnetic emanations for a few seconds from a distance of 50 cm. The attack can be executed using cheap and readily-available equipment: a consumer-grade radio receiver or a Software Defined Radio USB dongle. The setup is compact and can operate untethered; it can be easily concealed, e.g., inside pita bread. Common laptops, and popular implementations of RSA and ElGamal encryptions, are vulnerable to this attack, including those that implement the decryption using modern exponentiation algorithms such as sliding-window, or even its side-channel resistant variant, fixed-window (m-ary) exponentiation.

We successfully extracted keys from laptops of various models running GnuPG (popular open source encryption software, implementing the OpenPGP standard), within a few seconds. The attack sends a few carefully-crafted ciphertexts, and when these are decrypted by the target computer, they trigger the occurrence of specially-structured values inside the decryption software. These special values cause observable fluctuations in the electromagnetic field surrounding the laptop, in a way that depends on the pattern of key bits (specifically, the key-bits window in the exponentiation routine). The secret key can be deduced from these fluctuations, through signal processing and cryptanalysis.

From Wired:

Researchers at Tel Aviv University and Israel’s Technion research institute have developed a new palm-sized device that can wirelessly steal data from a nearby laptop based on the radio waves leaked by its processor’s power use. Their spy bug, built for less than $300, is designed to allow anyone to “listen” to the accidental radio emanations of a computer’s electronics from 19 inches away and derive the user’s secret decryption keys, enabling the attacker to read their encrypted communications. And that device, described in a paper they’re presenting at the Workshop on Cryptographic Hardware and Embedded Systems in September, is both cheaper and more compact than similar attacks from the past — so small, in fact, that the Israeli researchers demonstrated it can fit inside a piece of pita bread.

Another article. NSA article from 1972 on TEMPEST. Hacker News thread. Reddit thread.

Posted on June 29, 2015 at 1:38 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.