Could Your Smartphone Steal Your Password?

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Photo: Thinkstock

Smartphones can do many things these days; they’re smart after all. But did you know that they can spy on you, and may even be able to get your password without you knowing?

According to a Wired article, the accelerometers in many popular mobile devices — which sense motion, vibration, and phone position — can be hacked to record keystrokes when placed close enough to a computer keyboard. Computer scientists at Georgia Tech discovered this, after experimenting with a technique that can decipher keystrokes onto a keyboard by simply detecting vibrations. The data of possible keystrokes are then fed through an algorithm which approximates the closest possible word in a dictionary database, and then generates words — and even readable sentences — with an accuracy of up to 80%.

How is this different from just tapping randomly on a keyboard or table? It detects keystroke pairs and senses the proximity of the vibrations to figure out the possible positions of the keys.

“We first tried our experiments with an iPhone 3GS, and the results were difficult to read,” said Assistant Professor Patrick Traynor of Georgia Tech’s School of Computer Science. “But then we tried an iPhone 4, which has an added gyroscope to clean up the accelerometer noise, and the results were much better. We believe that most smartphones made in the past two years are sophisticated enough to launch this attack.”

Whether or not a hacker attack to read what you type is going to hit soon, but you should at least be wary of possible spyware in apps. If there’s ever going to be an attack using this keystroke reading technique, I’m sure there’s going to be a deterring, protective app for that.