Is your data safe? It can be stolen without you even noticing it!

We all know about hackers intercepting computers, phones and other smart devices through the Internet or apps. However, have you heard about a way to eavesdrop all your communications as well as your computer or printer without you knowing it and without leaving any trace on your device?


written by: By Stefan Lindau, Country Manager Nordics, Panasonic TOUGHBOOK


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When you work within IT, technology and cybersecurity, you sometimes gain access to information that you would have rather missed out on. This was how I felt, when I first heard about – let me furnish you with the official term “compromising emanation” or more easily said, eavesdropping. (Swedish RÖS and EU/NATO TEMPEST – Röjande Signal).

It is a technique that allows all sorts of intelligent devices such as computers, tablets, phones, printers, wireless meeting tools, and alarm systems to be intercepted despite being actually protected by multi-factor authentication, security protocols like WPA2 or other models for encrypting data.

The scary thing is: Data could be intercepted before encryption

It took me a little while to understand the matter completely, but the explanation behind eavesdropping is that all electronic equipment sends out electromagnetic signals, which with the right equipment can be intercepted and translated into readable information, if one physically finds oneself close to the source of the signals. 40 years ago, you had to be very close to the targeting source in order to be able to access data. As time goes by, however, all technology is constantly being refined and improved and today it is possible to intercept data even from a distance. 

The problem with eavesdropping is that the method of interception makes it possible to access data before the information is encrypted. Meaning, that encryption happens after the data has been entered on, for example, a computer, tablet or phone. By stealing data while it is being entered, the encryption has not yet taken place, making the protection useless. This real-time data theft can include passwords, making the situation even scarier.


Ordinary businesses choose military protection

I first heard about eavesdropping, when it became known to me that at Panasonic TOUGHBOOK we have a Swedish partner who almost exclusively has been dealing with securing devices against this form of interception for more than 35 years. This is of great relevance since we produce ultra-rugged computers and tablets for use in mixed military, police, ambulance services and fire departments. The devices must be able to withstand harsh physical treatments and additionally sustain the strict requirements for optimum security as well as guarantee the least possible risk of cyber-attacks. It goes without saying that the military, police and authorities will do pretty much anything to not be intercepted or have their information stolen. 

Panasonic collaborates with this Swedish partner – Comex Electronics AB – simply because more and more of our customers want and need the highest possible protection at a time when Sweden is very much the focal point of international cyber-attacks and interceptions – partly as a result of the war in Ukraine. Ordinary companies are therefore requesting high-level protective measures to secure their data.  With every reason I hear, my understanding grows.

Companies spy on competitors

Several of our customers, as well as Comex, talk about examples where eavesdropping is being used to intercept data from for example competitors, with whom one is in a competition in a public or private tender.  Another example, a developer from the R&D-department is sitting with his or her computer in a café or a co-working facility where a person from a competing company is also sitting just a few tables away. A situation like this could easily become a company’s worst nightmare, since the interceptor would be able to eavesdrop the developer’s computer, and thereby potentially acquire information about the company’s next future success or the password to the company´s network. With the password, the door is open into the company through ordinary hacking.

In addition, eavesdropping can be used for stock manipulation in connection with e.g. acquisitions of large companies. If you have access to that type of information before everyone else, it naturally opens the door for major financial gains. Furthermore, eavesdropping is high on the list of the most dangerous threats in the banking world, where sensitivity is extraordinarily high to avoid manipulation with financial transactions.  

For less than 3,000 SEK on the Internet

The frightening scenarios line up. Especially, if you know a little bit about what companies and cybercriminals are capable of. Let me tell you the story of an ethical hacker from Sweden attempting to eavesdrop a company. After making an antenna out of a coat hanger, he bought some simple equipment entirely legally on the Internet for less than 3000 Swedish kronor and downloaded some free programs on the Internet. That was all he had to do to succeed with the data theft. Imagine what an entire state with malicious intentions and unlimited resources can do. 

Perhaps I would have been happier and less worried, if I didn't know anything about compromising emanation, or eavesdropping. – But I do, because it is relevant to my work, and because the use of this intercepting technique is experiencing a massive growth in Sweden. I am sorry if I've ruined your day and your cybersecurity illusions. However, I feel it is time to spread the knowledge of the intruders’ and interceptors’ scariest discipline, which unfortunately is still unknown territory for too many of us. The scariest thing of all is, that eavesdropping is invisible and leaves no traces. 

In any case, please consider yourselves and your company warned.

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