Feeds

NSA coughs up secret TEMPEST specs

Persistence pays off

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Boost IT visibility and business value

The first of several documents related to the US government's TEMPEST programme, obtained by Cryptome.org's John Young under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, have been posted on his Web site. His original request was denied, but the persistent Young sought an appeal of that decision, which was recently granted in his favour.

No one is quite sure what TEMPEST stands for (some say it's an acronym for: Telecommunications Electronics Material Protected From Emanating Spurious Transmissions". Others say it is a nothing more than a code word), but what it means is quite simple: electromagnetic and acoustic signals which can be remotely detected and interpreted by a spy.

We live in a veritable ocean of electromagnetic radiation, produced by every gizmo we use at home and at work. They all produce signals; and believe it or not, our input to the devices, and their output, create modulations which can be 'read'.

The video signals leaking from your monitor change as you type using a text editor or word processor. It is (just barely) possible to capture the signals and correlate these changes with the actual text, enabling a spy to read over your shoulder, so to speak.

Practically speaking, reading the signals from a person's monitor is no longer feasible, as they are now well shielded due to health paranoia. But then, modems are a notoriously loud class of item, from which the 'noise' can easily be overheard and reconstructed. So are speaker phones, intercoms, outdated CRT monitors, much R&D equipment, you name it. They're all loud enough to be monitored without the physical implantation of any bugging device.

Electrical wiring and telephone lines can transmit such signals by conduction; walls can vibrate subtly, as can pipes, beams, ducts, and the like. The only fix is to silence the equipment, or to actively distort its signal emanations.

The NSA's concern, obviously, is any government equipment which process national security information in plain text. Hence its TEMPEST programme, which explains how to shield equipment and buildings against such exploitation.

And now, thanks to Young, we will all soon be able to figure out how to make our electronic equipment as quiet as the government's. This could be quite useful to academic and corporate researchers, whose activities are of sufficient value to make them targets of TEMPEST-style exploitation.

It will also offer great comfort to the many paranoid boneheads whose egos dispose them to imagine that their deluded rants are of interest to national security operators. Many a blissful hour may now be spent pulling down walls and ceilings and ripping the guts out of suspect computers, televisions, telephones, stereos, microwave ovens, clocks and radios.

Hey, if it keeps them off the streets, we're all for it. ®

Related stories

Meet TEMPEST - it stops people knowing what's on your PC screen
Readers' Letters Storm in a TEMPEST?

Application security programs and practises

More from The Register

next story
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Do YOU work at Microsoft? Um. Are you SURE about that?
Nokia and marketing types first to get the bullet, says report
Microsoft takes on Chromebook with low-cost Windows laptops
Redmond's chief salesman: We're taking 'hard' decisions
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
EU dons gloves, pokes Google's deals with Android mobe makers
El Reg cops a squint at investigatory letters
Chrome browser has been DRAINING PC batteries for YEARS
Google is only now fixing ancient, energy-sapping bug
Big Blue Apple: IBM to sell iPads, iPhones to enterprises
iOS/2 gear loaded with apps for big biz ... uh oh BlackBerry
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.