Smartphones Can Use Vibrations to Steal Passwords

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Be careful where you type. Researchers at Georgia Tech have developed a way for smartphones to pick up and interpret the vibrations made by typing on a keyboard. In theory, that means a thief could set an iPhone down next to your computer and steal your passwords or blackmail you with copies of embarrassing emails.

How does it work? According to MIT’s Technology Review, the researchers found a way to use a smartphone’s accelerometer and orientation sensor to record each vibration made by a keyboard stroke and translate it with 80 percent accuracy. It essentially judges which side of the keyboard is being used and measures the time between each tap, creating letter pairs that can later be translated into words.

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No need for paranoia yet; the technology still requires someone to place the phone on a flat table next a keyboard, meaning a thief would need to have access your home or office, provided you aren’t one of those weirdos who bring their desktops into Starbucks. This ranks right up there with the facial recognition app scandal earlier this year in terms of smartphone privacy scares.

Luckily, it’s hard to envision this technology being used by identify thieves on a large scale, not to mention anything from swaying skyscrapers to busy roads can provide enough interfering vibrations to throw off the readings. You also know you’re safe if someone places an iPhone 3GS next to you—the initial tests failed until the researchers upgraded to the iPhone 4, which has a more sensitive accelerometer. Reviews have yet to come in on how the new iPhone 4S fares in stealing your passwords.

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[via Technology Review]