GCN LAB REVIEWS
This KVM will die before giving up your secrets
- By John Breeden II
- Feb 24, 2012
for keyboard, video, mouse —
switches have become almost as common in offices as computer monitors. The devices allow a user to control multiple computers from a single keyboard, video monitor and mouse. You almost never see anyone with multiple monitors on their desk when a single display and set of input devices can be attached to many different systems. Because a human can’t really work on more than one system at the same time, having a KVM switch makes loads of sense.
This wasn’t always the case. When we first started reviewing KVM switches, the attitude of many people seemed to be, “You can take my multiple monitors only out of my cold, dead hands.” But once people got used to them, the benefits far outweighed any nostalgia for a "Matrix"-like office with curtains of monitors. KVM switches free up an incredible amount of space and conserve energy because you have fewer displays sitting around sucking in power and pumping out heat.
But it’s not all cake and ice cream in the world of KVMs. In certain environments they can be a bit of a negative, or even a risk. If you have multiple computers with different security classifications, networking them together by any means is generally frowned upon. Also, they offer a tempting target for hackers as they are generally not secured and sometimes overlooked in the context of an overall security plan.
Tripp Lite B002-DUA 4-port KVM Switch
Ease of Use: A
Pros: Keeps connected computers from communicating; most hacking attempts result in death of unit.
Cons: A bit pricey for a four-port switch.Related coverage
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The B002-DUA 4-port KVM Switch with NIAP-certified EAL2+ Security from Tripp Lite can be an answer to those problems. The B002 is designed to be a security fortress from the ground up.
In terms of its base engineering, it’s a four-port switch that uses DVI as the display method and USB to connect the peripherals. There are also audio in and out cables so computers with sound can share the same set of speakers. Unlike most KVM switches, there is no keyboard shortcut to move between inputs. Each channel is separate, so it’s almost like having four individual KVMs that happen to be sitting inside the same box. The only way to actually switch the view from one channel to another is with the hardware buttons on the front panel.Secure switching
The keyboard buffer is cleared automatically every time the channel changes. So if someone is typing on the secure channel and switches over to a nonsecure system, no data makes the jump. Anything stuck in the buffer is wiped out. This also helps prevent accidents because a user typing at his or her keyboard can’t accidentally switch channels and not realize it. You have to actually touch the KVM to do it.
One early method of hacking via KVM was to simply attach a USB drive to its ports and steal information right through the KVM itself. This has been eliminated with the B002 because it refuses to recognize anything other than human interface devices. We tested this with a unique mouse that also has a USB port. When connected to the B002, the KVM recognized the mouse and let us use it as a pointer, but the USB port didn’t function. So you can’t bypass internal security settings for USB drives by connecting through the switch.
For our testing, we set up three different networks with varying security levels and connected them via the B002-DUA4. We left the fourth input slot empty to try and hack. We tried a bunch of different methods from a keyboard overflow to the aforementioned USB-equipped mouse to using a keyboard logger virus on the unsecured computer to try and sniff what was happening over on the secure one. Nothing worked. It’s safe to say that the B002 will prevent any accidental exchange of data, and it is quite a firewall against someone trying to get at your data on purpose.
Turning from the mundane to more James Bond-like methods, we decided to try and crack open the KVM itself. Our plan was to open it up, connect the channels and install a recording device thumb drive on the empty one, which would log what was happening on the other three. We actually accomplished this very feat years ago on an unsecured KVM, so it’s entirely possible.
However, with the B002, someone attempting such a thing will run into problems. First, there are tamper-evident stickers against all the seams. While it might be possible to slowly peel them off or use some type of solvent, when we tried, our tampering was pretty obvious to anyone who looked even after the stickers were replaced. Secondly, the device itself has a tamper sensor. If the device is opened, it will stop working. Not only that, all its LEDs blink like mad to indicate the intrusion. Finally, once we did get inside, we found that each of the channels and all internal circuitry are soldered directly to the motherboard. Without any wires, this makes hardware hacking almost impossible. Melting the connections would likely damage the device beyond repair. That is more than enough incentive to make most people leave the KVM alone.The price of security
Finally, the firmware on the unit is not programmable, which eliminated the last method we could realistically try to make the unit less secure. While this means the B002 can never be flash upgraded, we doubt the KVM would ever need it. At its core, a KVM switch is kind of a basic component, so we don’t think it would ever need to be upgraded to accommodate some new feature.
In terms of cost, the B002 is $1,150. We understand that you have to pay for security but still would balk just a bit at paying more than $1,000 for a four-port KVM. We suppose if you absolutely have to have every component in your network be completely secure, then the B002 isn’t a bad deal, even though you can purchase 10 nonsecure KVMs for the same price.
After our tampering attempts, our B002-DUA4 is basically a pile of slag. However, we were not able to get any data from any of our test networks using it. And in the end, your classified government data is the most valuable thing in your office. If you have to lose a KVM to protect it, then that’s a lot better than losing your secrets. For that reason, we highly recommend the B002-DUA4 in places where security is the primary concern. It will take one for your team if needed.
Tripp Lite, www.tripplite.com
John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.