Wireless keyboard security

Wireless keyboards are very convenient but not always secure. Most hacking happens from a distance — from the other side of the country or the world. But the wrong wireless keyboard can make you vulnerable to the hacker next door.

How they work: A wireless keyboard is like the wireless remote you use for your TV, sending radio signals that let you control a digital device like a smart TV or computer from across the room. Each time you press a key on the keyboard, it sends a little radio wave out to the TV or computer. It’s great technology and most of us have these wireless keyboards in our homes and offices.

How they get hacked: These wireless devices do create hacking risks, though. When you type on a wireless keyboard, the radio signal doesn’t just go to your TV or computer. It spreads out in every direction, and other people — if they have the right equipment — can pick it up and see what you’re typing. That can be a problem if you’re entering something sensitive, like your computer password or banking PIN.

That isn’t as scary as it sounds — the range of most wireless keyboards is a less than 50 feet, or 15 metres. Even special equipment can listen from no more than a few hundred feet. So if someone’s going to intercept your signal, they have to be close.

But if you live in an apartment building with a lot of neighbours  in all directions, or work in a large office or a public, shared space — or even if you’re just attending a conference — you might want to think about who’s nearby. 

How to protect yourself: If this is something that worries you, there are simple things you can do to protect yourself. And that mostly comes down to what kind of wireless keyboard you buy.

There are two general types: Bluetooth, and non-Bluetooth. Non-bluetooth keyboards use proprietary wireless technology. They come with their own little USB dongles that you plug into your TV or computer. It’s convenient because you don’t need to set anything up or pair anything – you just plug in the dongle and start typing.

But these types of keyboards tend to be more insecure, with lower grade encryption. In fact, some of the cheaper ones (think unfamiliar Chinese brand names) aren’t encrypted at all — anyone nearby with the right receiver can see everything you type.

If you’re buying a keyboard like this, with its own dongle, think about what you’re going to use it for. If it’s just for searching titles in netflix, you probably don’t care if it’s secure. On the other hand, if you’re using it day to day on your work computer, make sure you’re buying a more expensive, recent model from a recognized, high-quality manufacturer like Logitech. It doesn’t guarantee your security, but it helps!

The other type of wireless keyboard is a Bluetooth keyboard. It uses a radio signal to talk to the Bluetooth chip already built into your TV or computer, so there’s no separate dongle. The downside is that you have to pair the keyboard to your device before you can use it.

But once it’s set up, Bluetooth provides better security than most proprietary wireless keyboards. It still isn’t *totally* secure, but it’s good enough for most people in most situations. Even cheap Bluetooth keyboards are reasonably secure.

So … Think about what you’ll be using a wireless keyboard for before you buy it. If you’re doing anything sensitive — logging in, banking, sending nuclear codes — spend a little extra and get a big-name keyboard — or ideally, a Bluetooth keyboard.