Your mechanical keyboard is both inconvenient and dangerous

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If noisy mechanical keyboards are the torment of your existence at home or at work, you may have just found the ideal justification to stop your coworkers or loved ones from pounding those keys so loudly – it turns out that hackers can almost accurately guess what you’re doing by listening to you type.

image credits: digitaltrends

Georgi Gerganov’s Keytap3 software can tell what keys are being pressed just by listening at a close range with a half-decent microphone, with Gerganov proving this on their YouTube channel using a cell phone’s built-in microphone in a ‘acoustic eavesdropping’ test.

Gerganov had previously experimented in projects that required the user to input a sequence of prepared words and phrases to ‘train’ Gerganov’s software into interpreting what keys are being picked, though this is by far the most intuitive.

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Previous versions of the software also required that the microphone used to record the typing remain in the same position between the test and the actual running of the software, however these constraints no longer apply to Keytap3, which is the third version of the project.

“It works by clustering the detected keystrokes based on their sound similarity, and then applying statistical information about the frequency of the letter n-grams in the claimed language of the text (for example, English),” according to Gerganov.

We tried it with the Razer Huntsman v2 Analog, which employs Razer’s proprietary Analog key switches, but the results were uneven, so it’s safe to say this isn’t 100 percent accurate just yet. Still, the majority of what Keytap3 discovered from our typing was what we were writing, implying that it may detect critical information in private emails such as passwords. It’s quite frightening.

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You may test it out for yourself by going to the Keytap3 website and following the instructions.

  • Place yourself in a calm area.
    Place this page next to the keypad of interest on your phone.
    Open the page on your PC and place the microphone close to the keyboard.
  • During this test, the keyboard does not even need to be hooked in.
  • Allow microphone access to the web page by pressing the Init button below.
  • Use only lowercase letters and spaces to type some English text on the keyboard.
  • Try not to type faster than 250 words per minute.

Thankfully, this only works with mechanical keyboards, and noisy ones at that, because the sounds must be loud enough to be picked up by a microphone. If you’re very concerned, you might replace your current key switches with Cherry MX Silent switches. Even if the likelihood of hackers listening in on your chats is low, your coworkers may be grateful for the break.

Analysis: This isn’t a serious issue…yet

I have both good and bad news for you if this has made you nervous. The good news is that, while this is scary, it’s doubtful that hackers will be able to enter into your personal space and place a microphone near your keyboard without your knowledge.

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The bad news is that your keyboard could be leaking your personal information in a variety of other ways. Keystroke capturing dongles can be put into a keyboard’s USB cable, and wireless keyboards can be exploited using gear like KeySweeper, which uses the 2.4GHz frequency to record keyboards when situated in the same room.

There are even sophisticated systems that employ lasers to detect vibrations or powerline oscillations in order to capture what’s being typed on a nearby keyboard.

Still, if you prefer mechanical keyboards, none of this should stop you, especially if you use one at home rather than in a public office. It’s quite unlikely that you’ll need to take drastic precautions in your own house, since almost everything these days carries a security risk. It’s sometimes better to just enjoy the annoying tapping than to worry about hackers listening in on your Facebook conversations to your mother.

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Just in case you wanted to update, we’ve listed the top keyboards on the market.

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