Keyboard acoustic side channel attacks: exploring realistic and security-sensitive scenarios


This research takes a closer look at keyboard acoustic emanations specifically for the purpose of eavesdropping over random passwords. In this scenario, dictionary and HMM language models are not applicable; the attacker can only utilize the raw acoustic information which has been recorded. This work investigates several existing signal processing techniques for this purpose and introduces a novel technique—time–frequency decoding—that improves the detection accuracy compared to previous techniques. It also carefully examines the effect of typing style—a crucial variable largely ignored by prior research—on the detection accuracy. The results show that using the same typing style (hunt and peck) for both training and decoding the data, the best case success rate for detecting correctly the typed key is 64 % per character. The results also show that changing the typing style, to touch typing, during the decoding stage reduces the success rate, but using the time–frequency technique, it is still possible to achieve a success rate of around 40 % per character. In these realistic scenarios, where the password is random, the approach described here can reduce the entropy of the search space by up to 57 % per character. This brings keyboard acoustic attack one step closer to a full-fledged vulnerability.

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    HMM model can still be useful for creating the training data, but not for the actual password guessing/decoding.

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    Contextual or timing information may be used to determine this. As an example, the first keyboard input a user may provide every morning, while logging to her work computer, would usually be a password.


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The authors would like to thank Avishai Wool, Yigael Berger, and Doug Tygar for discussions related to prior work on keyboard acoustic emanations. This work was supported in part by the NSF (under Grant No. 0966187). The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of any of the sponsors.

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Correspondence to Tzipora Halevi.

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Appendix: Algortihms


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Halevi, T., Saxena, N. Keyboard acoustic side channel attacks: exploring realistic and security-sensitive scenarios. Int. J. Inf. Secur. 14, 443–456 (2015).

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  • Keyboard acoustic emanations
  • Random passwords
  • Signal processing