NSA coughs up secret TEMPEST specs

Persistence pays off


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 So are speaker phones, intercoms, outdated CRT monitors, much R&D equipment, you name it.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


Other stories you might like

  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading
  • Big Tech loves talking up privacy – while trying to kill privacy legislation
    Study claims Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft work to derail data rules

    Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft often support privacy in public statements, but behind the scenes they've been working through some common organizations to weaken or kill privacy legislation in US states.

    That's according to a report this week from news non-profit The Markup, which said the corporations hire lobbyists from the same few groups and law firms to defang or drown state privacy bills.

    The report examined 31 states when state legislatures were considering privacy legislation and identified 445 lobbyists and lobbying firms working on behalf of Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft, along with industry groups like TechNet and the State Privacy and Security Coalition.

    Continue reading
  • SEC probes Musk for not properly disclosing Twitter stake
    Meanwhile, social network's board rejects resignation of one its directors

    America's financial watchdog is investigating whether Elon Musk adequately disclosed his purchase of Twitter shares last month, just as his bid to take over the social media company hangs in the balance. 

    A letter [PDF] from the SEC addressed to the tech billionaire said he "[did] not appear" to have filed the proper form detailing his 9.2 percent stake in Twitter "required 10 days from the date of acquisition," and asked him to provide more information. Musk's shares made him one of Twitter's largest shareholders. The letter is dated April 4, and was shared this week by the regulator.

    Musk quickly moved to try and buy the whole company outright in a deal initially worth over $44 billion. Musk sold a chunk of his shares in Tesla worth $8.4 billion and bagged another $7.14 billion from investors to help finance the $21 billion he promised to put forward for the deal. The remaining $25.5 billion bill was secured via debt financing by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays, and others. But the takeover is not going smoothly.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022