Van Eck Phreaking

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What Does Van Eck Phreaking Mean?

Van Eck phreaking is a form of digital espionage whereby an eavesdropper detects and analyzes digital signals using equipment that can pick up the electromagnetic emissions put out by a cathode ray tube (CRT) or LCD display. This makes it possible for someone to read the images on another person’s display from a distance.

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There are ways to obscure or reduce display emission in order to thwart Van Eck phreaking, but they are not commercially viable because the security risk that Van Eck phreaking poses to the general public is considered to be very small. This is because Van Eck phreaking requires specialized knowledge and decoding equipment that is not widely available. Highly sensitive computer networks do, however, use Faraday cages to prevent any possibility of a breach via Van Eck phreaking.

Techopedia Explains Van Eck Phreaking

The ability to read a display using the electromagnetic radiation it emits was first discovered by a Dutch researcher named Wim van Eck. In his 1985 paper, “Electromagnetic Radiation from Video Display Units: An Eavesdropping Risk?”, Eck provided the theoretical explanation that makes Van Eck phreaking possible.

The emissions from the display are collected and then demodulated into an understandable facsimile of the display, so a CRT display that is not electromagnetically shielded can be viewed from nearby using special equipment. The range is limited so the equipment has to be within a short distance of the target computer screen.

Modern LCD flat panels are thought to also be susceptible to electromagnetic eavesdropping using a similar method to Van Eck phreaking

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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.