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Most newer wireless keyboards have good encryption on them and limited range. But, you should still know the danger of getting sniffed.

Hi, Leo. I read on your site that it can be dangerous to use a wireless mouse and keyboard. But everyone seems to be using them these days. I do like the convenience of it. But I'm worried. What can I do to make it safer? Will a firewall, router, or anything stop people from picking up the signals? I don't want to start using something where passwords or bank codes could be plucked out of the air.

In this excerpt from Answercast #18, I look at the dangers of using a wireless keyboard or mouse (and if you should worry about using them).

Dangers of wireless

So, I don't want to alarm people unnecessarily. It is theoretically possible for people to sniff the keystrokes from a wireless keyboard to your PC.

The mouse I'm much less concerned about because all they are really getting there is information like: the mouse moved 5 pixels left and 3 pixels up, and they clicked the right mouse button. That doesn't tell them anything worthwhile.

The keyboard, on the other hand, if it were sniffable, could potentially let the attacker know that you've pressed particular keystrokes. And perhaps those keystrokes were passwords.

The good news is that most currently available wireless keyboards use types of encryption that are pretty good. You really don't have to be terribly concerned about it.

Wireless range

Also, the range we're talking about here isn't really very far. The range is something on the order of maybe 30 feet; maybe a 100 feet at best.

So it's one of those things where I also wouldn't worry much unless someone with malicious intent can get really close to your machine.

It's not like somebody across the street, or even a couple of floors up or down from your office, is going to be able to sneak in and listen to your keystrokes. It really is a proximity thing.

Encryption and proximity

So between those two things – the basic encryption that's in most current keyboards and the kind of distance that's involved in order to pick these signals up – it's not something that I really worry about.

It is something you need to be aware of if you are using an older keyboard that may not have the best encryption. Or you are in an environment where people are getting close enough that they could be sniffing your keyboard.

The only real solution for that, the only true solution in that case, is to not use wireless; to use a wired keyboard.

That's really the only way to stay completely safe in a case like this.

Like I said, in most cases, the threat is overstated. It's more of a 'possibility' than a true threat. Most people need not worry.

End of Answercast #18. Back to - Audio Segment

Article C5359 - May 17, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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3 Comments
Mark J
May 18, 2012 8:10 AM

I was concerned about the security of using a wireless keyboard, so I googled the model number of my keyboard and on the features page it told me the keyboard used 128 bit AES encryption, which is pretty good. So, If you’re concerned about the security of your wireless keyboard or the one you’re intending to buy, *Google it*

Esley
May 18, 2012 9:45 AM

Hi Leo, I love your Answercast series and look
forward to reading you "ask leo" articles.
Keep up the good work!! enjoy the weekend

Tony G
May 22, 2012 2:43 PM

I have used a wireless Keyboards for years, but I have never worried about loosing a password, the reason is that I do not type passwords.
I have used Roboform since it came out, now I use Roboform2Go on a USB key that I carry around my neck.
So the only password I have to type is the one to access Roboform, the rest of the passwords is Roboform that finds the website shoots in the Username and Password and presses return and I am in a flash.
After logging in Roboform I can visit as many sites I want without having to input another password.

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