Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft

Electronic eavesdropping is becoming mere child's play

New-wave spies

Electronic eavesdropping is becoming mere child's play

SOFTWARE that allows a computer to receive radio signals could make spying on other computers all too simple, according to two scientists at the University of Cambridge. Such are the dangers that they are patenting countermeasures that computer manufacturers can take to foil any electronic eavesdroppers.

Spies can already read documents written on computers by intercepting the radio-frequency emissions from their electronics, but the tuning and antenna equipment needed to do this is not available off-the- shelf and is very expensive. But a new breed of "software radio", designed to let computers tune in to radio signals in any waveband, promises to make this type of eavesdropping simple and cheap. A PC circuit board with a plug-in aerial does all the tuning under software control and has a digital signal processor chip to cut noise.

"Equipment to do this [spying] would now cost at least 30 000, but in five years it will cost less than 1000, and it's hackers who will be writing the software," predicts Markus Kuhn, a research student who has filed the patent with Cambridge cryptographic expert Ross Anderson (see interview this issue, p 48).