April 12, 2017

"It’s no secret that smartphone PIN codes are not perfect, but new research suggests they might be next to worthless."

digital trends: A team of scientists at Newcastle University in the U.K. was able to guess a user’s phone PIN code with nothing more than data from the device’s sensors. By Kyle Wiggers

'In a paper published in International Journal of Information security, researchers demonstrated how a phone’s gyroscope — the sensor that tracks the rotation and orientation of your wrist — could be used to guess a four-digit PIN code with a high degree of accuracy. In one test, the team cracked a passcode with 70 percent accuracy. By the fifth attempt, the accuracy had gone up to 100 percent.

'It takes a lot of data, to be sure. The Guardian notes users had to type 50 known PINs five times before the researchers’ algorithm learned how they held a phone when typing each particular number. But it highlights the danger of malicious apps that gain access to a device’s sensors without requesting permission.

'“Most smartphones, tablets, and other wearables are now equipped with a multitude of sensors,” Dr. Maryam Mehrnezhad, a research fellow in the Newcastle University School of Computing Science and lead author on the paper, said. “But because mobile apps and websites don’t need to ask permission to access most of them, malicious programs can covertly ‘listen in’ on your sensor data.”'

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