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HP drops keyboard security guarantee

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HP's incredibly powerful wireless keyboards are bringing Norwegian neighbours together again. This time, a letter of complaint typed by Oslo man Are Wormnes on his home PC travelled by courtesy of the the HP keyboard to the computer of neighbour Ørjan Stokkeland.

When Wormnes phoned HP to complain, he was advised to
"speak with all neighbors within a radius of 100m
and switch his keyboard to a channel they weren't using.

"There must be 100 people in that area. It's impossible to talk with all of them," Wormnes told Aftenposten. "And that is not even the worst of it.

"If a neighbor wants to listen in, there is no way to stop them. I got a message from HP that another alternative was "not to write any sensitive information".

HP Norway has since apologised for dispensing that pearl of wisdom. But it seems that it is dealing with this security flaw by, yes, you already guessed, by deciding it will no "longer guarantee their cordless keyboards for security", Aftenposten reports.

The HP wireless security flaw was discovered in November when text typed in by a Stavanger man, travelled through several walls and 150m to appear on the screen of his neighbour. ®

Related story

Why does my typing appear on my neighbour's PC?

Last autumn a similar case made headlines. Two Stavanger men discovered they were connected when a neighbor recognized a letter mysteriously appearing on his machine to be emanating from his boss a few doors away.

Hewlett-Packard first claimed that this was a quirk, but replacement equipment produced the same results, with information being directly transmitted to the neighbor's computer, despite it being far out of advertised range and with several walls between.

The latest case took place in Bestum, Oslo, and took about a week to clear up.

Stokkeland began noticing strange characters appearing on his screen. Occasionally a new program would open, and text would suddenly appear in the address field of his browser while he was online. He couldn't access his e-mail because the wrong characters kept appearing in the password field.

"I was a bit worried about a virus, I was sure I had one. I deleted and reinstalled my firewall but it didn't help. I couldn't understand what was going on," Stokkeland said.

His neighbor Wormnes works from home, and spends a lot of his time typing at his computer, causing Stokkeland almost constant problems.

"Finally I opened a Word document. There I saw the "virus" writing a letter to Telenor complaining about a bill. When I saw the sender's address I understood the connection. It's crazy. I could have just left the document open and read everything he wrote," Stokkeland said.

Wormnes rang up HP and was told that "this kind of thing could happen". Hewlett-Packard advised him to eters
HP apologized via press spokesman Joakim Larsen for the advice to avoid writing sensitive information.

"That just isn't adequate. It is also regrettable that he was told to arrange channel selection with his neighbors. Those that have had this problem have switched to our new model with 256 different channels and higher security. Each time the computer is turned on the keyboard chooses a new channel at random. Then it is not possible to monitor someone's computer all the time," Larsen said.

Larsen agreed that this did not prevent someone from intermittently reading what was being written with the new keyboards.

"You won't be 100 percent safe with the new model either. If you want to be completely sure that no one can see what you are writing then you should use a keyboard with a cord," Larsen said.

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