What is wireless keyboard security?
Wireless keyboard security involves the measures to protect the signal between your wireless keyboard and the receiving device. Unlike a wired keyboard or mouse, wireless signals travel through air and can be picked up by the surrounding devices. Without proper security, hackers can hijack your wireless keyboard or intercept and decrypt the signal, stealing your data in the process.
How does a wireless keyboard work?
Let’s start with a wired keyboard. You plug it in and everything you type goes directly to your device. Usually, no additional security is needed. Wireless keyboards work in a similar way, but you must take a few extra steps to make sure the wireless signal cannot be intercepted by third parties.
Depending on the connection type (we’ll discuss them later) and the device you’re connecting to, you’ll need to pair your wireless keyboard first. For example, enable Bluetooth on both devices and help them find each other. Or you may need to plug in a receiver (a USB dongle) to help your wireless keyboard establish a connection.
Pairing a wireless keyboard with a device is like building a lift bridge. Both gadgets recognize each other and establish a secure path the signal can travel through. When you turn off one of the devices, the bridge is lifted, so no other signal can use your secure path.
What are wireless keyboard security vulnerabilities?
While millions of people use wireless keyboards every day without problems, every device has vulnerabilities that can be exploited by bad actors. As far as wireless keyboards are concerned, a hacked device could reveal sensitive information like passwords and credit card data.
Here are the most common wireless keyboard vulnerabilities:
- Weak or no encryption. If that’s the case, the signal travels through the air without protection and can be easily intercepted.
- Somebody looks over your shoulder. If your wireless keyboard uses a password or a PIN code, the simplest way for someone to exploit it is to look over your shoulder while you type in the code.
- An unattended device. Leaving your device open, even if you step out for a minute, can leave your wireless keyboard open to hacking.
- Firmware flaws. Even if your wireless keyboard uses modern encryption, firmware bugs can be exploited to read the wireless signal.
- Compromised access point. Hackers often set up rogue access points in public places hoping to steal data from unsuspecting users who connect to it.
- Bluejacking. Bluejacking is a cyberattack using Bluetooth to send messages to devices nearby.
- Bluesnarfing. Bluesnarfing is an attack targeting Bluetooth devices with the aim to steal its data.
- Keylogger. Keylogger is a type of spyware that records every keystroke and can send the stolen data back to the criminal.
Are wireless keyboards safe to use?
Just like cars, credit cards, and refrigerators, wireless keyboards are completely safe to use. It’s the conditions you work in that cause potential risks. While working from home or office, you are much safer using a wireless keyboard compared to a public place where you’re surrounded by strangers.
The vulnerabilities aren’t even all connected to the use of wireless technology. The device itself can be flawed. As keyboards don’t have interfaces, users are much less likely to consider upgrading them, so an internal bug hackers know about and can exploit could stay unpatched for a long time.
Lastly, despite many keyboards using modern encryption, Bluetooth vulnerabilitiesexist allowing hackers to intercept the signal and steal your information.
What Is AES encryption?
The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is one of the most secure symmetric encryption algorithms today. Developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), AES replaced DES as the go-to cybersecurity encryption standard.
AES is also commonly used to encrypt the signal between the wireless keyboard and your device. First, a key is generated and shared between the two devices when you connect them. Then, the keyboard uses that key to encrypt everything you type and your device uses it to decrypt the signal.
Wireless keyboards connection types
To transmit signals, wireless keyboards may use radio frequency, infrared, or Bluetooth technology. Below we’ll break down the differences between these methods.
Infrared keyboards use light waves to transmit data. While less expensive than other types of keyboards, IR keyboards are not very popular. If you’ve ever held a remote control, you’ll likely understand why. The IR signal is weak and requires a direct line of sight between the keyboard and the receiving device. You can also find infrared keyboards that are projected onto a surface.
Proprietary radio frequency (RF)
Radio frequency uses radio waves to transmit data. Radio waves can travel further (up to 100 feet) than infrared or Bluetooth. Also, they’re cheaper because radio frequency technology is part of the public domain and companies can freely adapt the technology to their products.
Until something new comes along, Bluetooth is the technology of the day. It’s being continuously improved upon, offers compatibility with a wide range of devices, and is adequately secure. Due to modern technology, Bluetooth is also more energy efficient compared to other connection types. However, one disadvantage you may already be aware of is interference. Bluetooth can only travel for short distances (up to 30 feet) and can be affected by other electronic devices.
Lastly, as the most popular option on the market today, Bluetooth keyboards aren’t bulletproof against various hacking attacks, especially if you don’t take the time to set them up properly.
How can I secure my wireless keyboard?
All wireless devices have flaws that can make them vulnerable. The key is to recognize them and be aware of your environment. For example, if you’re using a wireless keyboard in a public place, don’t leave your device unattended.
Also, remember some basic rules that apply to all wireless keyboards as well as general cyber hygiene:
Know your device
If you already have a wireless keyboard, do some research on the model. Find out about its security as well as any flaws or incidents reported in the past. Sometimes, even strong security can be weakened by the flaws of the keyboard firmware.
Change the default settings
The appeal of plug-and-play devices is clear. Hackers love them too because so few users bother or even know how to change the default settings like passwords and PINs.
Use the best security you can
As long as you’re changing the default settings, make sure you don’t weaken your security by changing the default password to something that’s easy to guess.
Turn off your devices
Even if you’re stepping away for just a moment, don’t leave your devices unattended. You can be held up for longer and, even if you aren’t, plugging a rogue USB or inserting code remotely only takes a second.
Stay aware of your surroundings
Whenever you work from a public place, be aware of people around you, especially when you’re looking up sensitive information or filling in passwords.
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