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Scientists detect your PIN through sight and sound

Your phone's mic can hear a PIN drop
Tue Nov 12 2013, 14:28
Security threats - password theft

THE NEXT TIME you’re unlocking your smartphone, make sure you're not being watched through your webcam.

Cambridge University boffins have demonstrated that your facial expressions could give your security away, if your webcam is on at the time. Using an app called "PIN Skimmer", the team was able to listen to the sound of taps in relative proximity to a device microphone, and study facial expressions using its front facing camera to deduce the unlock codes or patterns of several Android devices with alarming accuracy.

For a four digit PIN the app was able to detect with 50 percent accuracy within five attempts and for an eight digit PIN, a 60 percent success rate was achieved within 10 attempts.

With this technology still in its development stage, it is safe to say that it will be further refined and the accuracy level will increase. The tests, conducted on a Nexus S and Samsung Galaxy S3, are now expected to be widened to other devices.

There have been several suggestions made already about how to combat this, and while randomising the keyboard positions might go some way to alleviating the problem, it might be that biometrics such as the iPhone 5S' TouchID fingerprint scanner will become more and more important in the fight against telecoms fraud.

Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge, told the BBC, "We watch how your face appears to move as you jiggle your phone by typing, It did surprise us how well it worked."

With more of us using our smart devices as our wallets, security concerns are at an all time high, and now that this can of worms is open, it will be up to mobile operating system developers to ensure that camera and microphone functions are disabled during unlocking operations. µ


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