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Smartphone Users' Privacy Betrayed By Their Gadget Sensors, Says Study

Can your accelerometer betray your PIN code?

Smartphone Users' Privacy Betrayed By Their Gadget Sensors, Says Study

Research into smartphone security has revealed that your phone's sensors could help criminals unlock your stolen gadget. And, given that these elements all come as standard on most smartphone models, and are not subject to the same controls as other phone functions, they are a bigger security risk. The study was carried out by a visiting professor at Swarthmore College, who analyzed data captured from a smartphone's accelerometer—that's the gadget that analyzes the direction your phone is tilting or moving and turns the screen accordingly, and used for games like Doodle Jump—and found it could be used to work out where someone tapped the screen.

Dr Adam J. Aviv and his team, from the University of Pennsylvania, developed software to analyze the results and, the more guesses it was allowed, the more accurate it became, spotting a user PIN with around 43% of success, and user PIN patterns around 73% of the time. One way of foxing the software, however, was by tapping in the digits while on the move. The added movement, acted as "noise" and went some way to blocking out the patterns.

It's not the first time an accelerometer has been used for somewhat underhand and nefarious purposes—three years ago, a Japanese firm came up with an accelerometer-powered piece of spyware, which allowed bosses to spy on their underlings.

[Image by Flickr user Kai Henry]