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 Stable magnetic bit of three atoms
21.09.2017 | Sonderforschungsbereich 668

nachricht Drones can almost see in the dark
20.09.2017 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>