Feeds

NSA coughs up secret TEMPEST specs

Persistence pays off

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

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 So are speaker phones, intercoms, outdated CRT monitors, much R&D equipment, you name it.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?

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
OpenBSD founder wants to bin buggy OpenSSL library, launches fork
One Heartbleed vuln was too many for Theo de Raadt
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Ubuntu 14.04 LTS: Great changes, but sssh don't mention the...
Why HELLO Amazon! You weren't here last time
Got Windows 8.1 Update yet? Get ready for YET ANOTHER ONE – rumor
Leaker claims big release due this fall as Microsoft herds us into the CLOUD
Patch iOS, OS X now: PDFs, JPEGs, URLs, web pages can pwn your kit
Plus: iThings and desktops at risk of NEW SSL attack flaw
Next Windows obsolescence panic is 450 days from … NOW!
The clock is ticking louder for Windows Server 2003 R2 users
Batten down the hatches, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS due in TWO DAYS
Admins dab straining server brows in advance of Trusty Tahr's long-term support landing
Red Hat to ship RHEL 7 release candidate with a taste of container tech
Grab 'near-final' version of next Enterprise Linux next week
Apple inaugurates free OS X beta program for world+dog
Prerelease software now open to anyone, not just developers – as long as you keep quiet
prev story

Whitepapers

Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.