Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Georgia Tech Turns iPhone Into spiPhone

19.10.2011
It’s a pattern that no doubt repeats itself daily in hundreds of millions of offices around the world: People sit down, turn on their computers, set their mobile phones on their desks and begin to work. What if a hacker could use that phone to track what the person was typing on the keyboard just inches away?

A research team at Georgia Tech has discovered how to do exactly that, 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. The procedure is not easy, they say, but 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.”

Previously, 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 phones’ accelerometers sample just 100 times per second—two full orders of magnitude less often. Plus, 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.

The technique works through probability and by detecting pairs of keystrokes, rather than individual keys (which still is too difficult to accomplish reliably, Traynor said). It models “keyboard events” in pairs, then determines whether the pair of keys pressed is on the left versus right side of the keyboard, and whether they are close together or far apart. After the system has determined these characteristics for each pair of keys depressed, it compares the results against a preloaded dictionary, each word of which has been broken down along similar measurements (i.e., are the letters left/right, near/far on a standard QWERTY keyboard). Finally, the technique only works reliably on words of three or more letters.

For example, take the word “canoe,” which when typed breaks down into four keystroke pairs: “C-A, A-N, N-O and O-E.” Those pairs then translate into the detection system’s code as follows: Left-Left-Near, Left-Right-Far, Right-Right-Far and Right-Left-Far, or LLN-LRF-RRF-RLF. This code is then compared to the preloaded dictionary and yields “canoe” as the statistically probable typed word. Working with dictionaries comprising about 58,000 words, the system reached word-recovery rates as high as 80 percent.

“The way we see this attack working is that you, the phone’s owner, would request or be asked to download an innocuous-looking application, which doesn’t ask you for the use of any suspicious phone sensors,” said Henry Carter, a PhD student in computer science and one of the study’s co-authors. “Then the keyboard-detection malware is turned on, and the next time you place your phone next to the keyboard and start typing, it starts listening.”

Mitigation strategies for this vulnerability are pretty simple and straightforward, Traynor said. First, since the study found an effective range of just three inches from a keyboard, phone users can simply leave their phones in their purses or pockets, or just move them further away from the keyboard. But a fix that puts less onus on users is to add a layer of security for phone accelerometers.

“The sampling rate for accelerometers is already pretty low, and if you cut it in half, you start to approach theoretical limitations that prevent eavesdropping. The malware simply does not have the data to work with,” Traynor said. “But most phone applications can still function even with that lower accelerometer rate. So manufacturers could set that as the default rate, and if someone downloads an application like a game that needs the higher sampling rate, that would prompt a permission question to the user to reset the accelerometer.”

In the meantime, Traynor said, users shouldn’t be paranoid that hackers are tracking their keystrokes through their iPhones.

“The likelihood of someone falling victim to an attack like this right now is pretty low,” he said. “This was really hard to do. But could people do it if they really wanted to? We think yes.”

The finding is reported in the paper, “(sp)iPhone: Decoding Vibrations From Nearby Keyboards Using Mobile Phone Accelerometers,” and will be presented Thursday, Oct. 20, at the 18th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Chicago. In addition to Carter, Traynor’s coauthors include Georgia Tech graduate student Arunabh Verman and Philip Marquardt of the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

About the Georgia Tech College of Computing

The Georgia Tech College of Computing is a national leader in the creation of real-world computing breakthroughs that drive social and scientific progress. With its graduate program ranked 10th nationally by U.S. News and World Report, the College’s unconventional approach to education is defining the new face of computing by expanding the horizons of traditional computer science students through interdisciplinary collaboration and a focus on human-centered solutions. For more information about the Georgia Tech College of Computing, its academic divisions and research centers, please visit http://www.cc.gatech.edu.

Contact
Michael Terrazas
Assistant Director of Communications
College of Computing at Georgia Tech
mterraza@cc.gatech.edu

Michael Terrazas | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.cc.gatech.edu

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Micropatterning OLEDs using electron beam technology
27.04.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Organische Elektronik, Elektronenstrahl- und Plasmatechnik FEP

nachricht Quantum computing closer as RMIT drives towards first quantum data bus
18.04.2016 | RMIT University

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: 2+1 is Not Always 3 - In the microworld unity is not always strength

If a person pushes a broken-down car alone, there is a certain effect. If another person helps, the result is the sum of their efforts. If two micro-particles are pushing another microparticle, however, the resulting effect may not necessarily be the sum their efforts. A recent study published in Nature Communications, measured this odd effect that scientists call “many body.”

In the microscopic world, where the modern miniaturized machines at the new frontiers of technology operate, as long as we are in the presence of two...

Im Focus: Tiny microbots that can clean up water

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute Stuttgart have developed self-propelled tiny ‘microbots’ that can remove lead or organic pollution from contaminated water.

Working with colleagues in Barcelona and Singapore, Samuel Sánchez’s group used graphene oxide to make their microscale motors, which are able to adsorb lead...

Im Focus: ORNL researchers discover new state of water molecule

Neutron scattering and computational modeling have revealed unique and unexpected behavior of water molecules under extreme confinement that is unmatched by any known gas, liquid or solid states.

In a paper published in Physical Review Letters, researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory describe a new tunneling state of...

Im Focus: Bionic Lightweight Design researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute at Hannover Messe 2016

Honeycomb structures as the basic building block for industrial applications presented using holo pyramid

Researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) will introduce their latest developments in the field of bionic lightweight design at Hannover Messe from 25...

Im Focus: New world record for fullerene-free polymer solar cells

Polymer solar cells can be even cheaper and more reliable thanks to a breakthrough by scientists at Linköping University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). This work is about avoiding costly and unstable fullerenes.

Polymer solar cells can be even cheaper and more reliable thanks to a breakthrough by scientists at Linköping University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

The “AC21 International Forum 2016” is About to Begin

27.04.2016 | Event News

Soft switching combines efficiency and improved electro-magnetic compatibility

15.04.2016 | Event News

Grid-Supportive Buildings Give Boost to Renewable Energy Integration

12.04.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Did you know that Heraeus PID lamps have been used in the measurement of air quality at the London airport?

02.05.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Heraeus Noblelight at the Drupa 2016

02.05.2016 | Trade Fair News

Climate-exodus expected in the Middle East and North Africa

02.05.2016 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>