Smartphone Sensors can Reveal PIN Codes to Hackers without Use of Owner

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Smartphones have changed the way people view and go about their lives in the modern day and age. Time, weather, calendar, meetings and much more can be viewed and done from the devices. They have become handy for everyone in all industries. For students, they hold their textbooks, doctors can stay connected to each other and give each other new ideas. However, with the invention of a good thing, there are bound to be bad characters which will creep in. It’s the same with smartphones.

The two best-operating systems on smartphones, Android and iOS, have been ravaged by cyber hacking incidents ever since their inceptions. Obviously, the nefarious activities are not only limited to these two operating systems but they are the most hit. In particular, Android devices have been widely susceptible to attacks because it is the most used. And researchers have found a new way the system can be compromised.

Security researchers at Nanyang Technology University in Singapore have discovered a new way that cyber attackers could use to compromise a device. The method discovered by the researchers involves the use of sensors which are located on the device itself. The sensors could in a way give the hackers the PIN code of the phone so that they could unlock the phone without any input from the owner of the device. In their tests, the researchers discovered that in 99,5 % of the cases, they could unlock the phone.

Using an Android device, the researchers did the test thrice and used the data that they got from the sensors of the phone. They used the six sensors that are located on Android devices. In all the three tests they executed, they managed to correctly guess the PIN code of the device and could unlock the phone.

The six sensors that the team used include the magnetometer, accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor and the barometer. They also discovered that when the gyroscope was combined with the accelerometer, they could get much accurate information. The smartphone they were using in their experiment had one of 50 most commonly used PIN codes. In their final analysis, they managed to guess the PIN code 100 % without any problems. This sees a rise from the 70% accuracy that was seen by UK based, Newcastle University researchers.

The team analyzed that the sensors could pose a significant risk for users because they don’t need user permission to work. They can easily be accessed by any app making them remarkably dangerous. The lead researcher on the project, Shivam Bhasin, said that the way which people pressed on their passcodes was a factor. When pressing 1,5, or 9, a person would block more light when pressing 5 than when pressing 9.

The researchers were also alarmed because any app has access to the sensors of the smartphone and don’t particularly need permission. The NTU researchers said that they advised owners to use longer PIN codes instead of the ordinary four-digit PIN codes. They also encouraged users to make use of face id or fingerprint security systems. However, they did say that at the end of the day it depended on the ways that smartphone makers stored the data from sensors on their own.