About that cellular interference...

About that cellular interference...

Summary: So... maybe it is a real problem.  Pedram Amini (top picture on the right), noted researcher and reverse engineer, posted an article to the Tipping Point DVLabs blog on some interesting observations he made on cellular interference.

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Pedram AminiSo... maybe it is a real problem.  Pedram Amini (top picture on the right), noted researcher and reverse engineer, posted an article to the Tipping Point DVLabs blog on some interesting observations he made on cellular interference.  From the article, Pedram comments on the discovery:

"I had placed my iPhone on the laptop just below the keyboard and was using an external keyboard and mouse Cody Pierce(from my new laptop over Synergy, which is fantastic software by the way). At some point my layer background color starting changing, the rulers appeared and disappeared, various nav items opened or closed, etc... The laptop is old and buggy so I thought nothing of it at first, then I wondered if it was my iPhone. I theorized that perhaps the iPhone was causing interference that was resulting in key strokes that mapped to hotkeys for manipulating my canvas and UI. A few quick tests confirmed the accuracy of this assumption, my interest peaked and I immediately called over the rest of the team to revel in this accidental discovery."

Pedram and fellow researcher Cody Pierce (bottom picture on the right) posted the following video to illustrate what they were seeing.

 Pedram describes what you're seeing in the video:

A few seconds into the video, Cody starts to make a call to my cell from his. At about the 10 second marker you'll see a flurry of characters spew across the screen. You may notice what appears to be a pencil tracing around the iPhone. We quickly realized that moving the phone too far off a specific spot failed to produce any key strokes. At this point we had three primary questions in mind:

  1. What is under that part of the keyboard that is being interfered with?
  2. Can we reliably generate arbitrary key strokes of our choosing?
  3. Solving [1] and [2], could we build a focused radio transmitter "gun" of sorts to transmit arbitrary keys to a target laptop from a distance? (huge grin on face)

The two researchers deconstruct Pedram's laptop and discover that it is likely interference is directly interacting with the keyboard ribbon, causing the keystrokes to be pushed.  After a good chunk of research, the two decide that what they really need to do is purchase a Universal Software Radio Peripheral (USRP) radio transceiver which they could interact with through custom created code via the GNU Radio project.  Pedram states that the researchers determined the cost for the ideal platform to conduct the research to be somewhere in the $2,000 to $3,000 range.

Unfortunately, the two researchers were unable to get approval for that much budget for a project that, while immensely cool and interesting, simply has limited business use for their company.  Due to this, Pedram and Cody passed the research off for public consumption, hoping that someone else can pick up where they left off.  Pedram states:

"Our hopes and dreams shattered, we scrapped the project for a few weeks and have now resurrected it for public consumption. I recall being a CS student at Tulane university with lots of time and motivation and few solid project ideas. Today I have zillions of ideas and not enough hours in the day to accomplish them. Perhaps someone out there looking for a project idea can push this along... Write us if you do, we'd love to hear about it."

Honestly, I think this would be a great University project, as I'm sure the government would be interested in seeing this technology work.  I wish I had time and $2,000 to $3,000 of my own money to spare, cause this just sounds like a lot of fun.  I fully anticipate somebody jumping on this and seeing this as a future ToorCon, DEFCON, or Shmoo talk.  I fully expect to see a grandiose ray-gun looking device created that can push key strokes in the near future... pretty interesting stuff.

-Nate

Topics: iPhone, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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4 comments
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  • Fire:

    Fire: ie://malicious_mpack.site.com/

    Or something like that. :-D
    mtgarden
  • Very Cool AND...

    I very much think this can be done but also if you can focus enough high frequency energy at a device you will cause a parasitic SCR effect (by the effect of raising a CMOS chip signal input level higher than the supply voltage) which essentially "crowbars" or makes the chip appear to the power supply as one big forward biased diode.
    This can cause anything from just a reset of the device or even permanent damage to the computer or it's power supply.

    Switching power supplies (prevalent in ALL computers) are especially prone to high frequency RF and will most of the time just shut down.

    Expensive toys for big boys,
    Fred Dunn
    dunn@...
    • Yikes!

      I'm going to pass what you just said to my electrical engineering fiance and see what she thinks, cause I know crap about EE and the like, but that scares me even more than pushing key strokes.

      -Nate
      nmcfeters
  • RE: About that cellular interference...

    You wonder why high-end equipment are shielded in Faraday cages which are to prevent signals from going in as much out. I used to work in a data center full of these servers and remember how important to keep the EMI shield integrity because of interference from other equipment but itself.
    GSM and iDEN phones and its associated radio frequencies are notorious for creating a huge amount of electromagnetic-radio frequency interference in all sorts of electronic equipment. If you notice if you have any audio equipment near one of the GSM or iDEN phones that you will hear the "chrips" of the interference before you receive an phone call so affecting a computer was expected.
    phatkat