What if a hacker could use your phone to track what you were typing on your keyboard just inches away?
A research team at Georgia Tech has discovered a way this can be done, using a smartphone accelerometer-the internal device that detects when and how the phone is tilted-to sense keyboard vibrations and decipher complete sentences with up to 80 percent accuracy. They say that although the procedure is not easy; it is definitely possible with the latest generations of smartphones.
“We first tried our experiments with an iPhone 3GS, and the results were difficult to read,” said Patrick Traynor, assistant professor in 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.”
In the past, Traynor said, researchers have accomplished similar results using microphones, but a microphone is a much more sensitive instrument than an accelerometer. A typical smartphone’s microphone samples vibration roughly 44,000 times per second, while even newer phone’s accelerometers sample just 100 times per second-two full orders of magnitude less often.
Also, manufacturers have installed security around a phone’s microphone; the phone’s operating system is programmed to ask users whether to give new applications access to most built-in sensors, including the microphone. Accelerometers typically are not protected in this way.
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