Clever illusion helps protect your PIN from 'shoulder surfers'

forgot android password pin pattern
Simon Hill / Digital Trends
A PIN password might seem like a secure way to lock a device but, considering how easy it is for a stranger to peak over your shoulder, it might not be that all that secure. Soon, an app called IllusionPIN might help protect your PIN by muddling the keyboard so the numbers appear normal from a distance but randomized when seen up close.

PIN sign-ins are a popular authentication method for various software and devices, from smartphones to ATMs. These relatively short string of digits are easy to remember but, for much the same reason, they are also easy to crack.

illusionpin protect your pin illusuonpin
Nasir Memon
Nasir Memon

“The traditional configuration of numbers on a keypad is so familiar that it’s possible for an observer to discern a PIN or access code after several viewings of surveillance video,” Nasir Memon, a New York University Tandon School of Engineering professor, told Digital Trends. Memon said his team’s aim was to make PIN authentication more secure without requiring much more work from the device or making user experience any less smooth.

The app they developed uses a hybrid-image keyboard that tricks the eye when viewed from a distance of a few feet or more. The specific technology combines an image of a keyboard with a high spatial frequency and a different image of a keyboard with a low spatial frequency. The visibility of each image depends on the distance from which it is seen and results in an illusion that deceives the eye of a “shoulder surfer” so that the keyboard appears to be normal when, in fact, it isn’t.

To test whether IllusionPIN would actually trick an onlooker, the researchers performed 84 shoulder-surfing attacks on 21 participants as they entered their PIN using the app. In a study published online last one in the journal IEEE Xplore, the researchers report that none of the attempted attacks were successful. They also preformed one attack on each participant without using IllusionPIN, each which successfully identified the password.

“We also determined that IllusionPIN makes it nearly impossible to steal PIN or other authentication information using surveillance footage,” Memon said.

Moving forward, the team will explore ideas for deploying their technology on smartphones, ATMs, and computers.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: A.I.-powered cat toys, wallets, food containers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Death from above? How we’re preparing for a future filled with weaponized drones

Drones are beginning to enable everything from search & rescue, to the delivery of medicines to hard-to-reach places. But they are also being used as cheap, and deadly flying bombs. How can we defend ourselves?
Computing

Apple’s latest feature ensures MacOS apps are safer than ever

MacOS is mythically known for being more immune to viruses than Windows, but that doesn't mean there isn't room to make it safer. Apple is using an app notarization feature to protect users from downloading malicious apps.
Computing

Protecting your PDF with a password isn't difficult. Just follow these steps

If you need to learn how to password protect a PDF, you have come to the right place. This guide will walk you through the process of protecting your documents step by step, whether you're running a MacOS or Windows machine.
Emerging Tech

Get your head in the clouds with the best vaporizers for flower and concentrates

Why combust dead plant matter when you could vaporize the good stuff and leave the leaves behind? Here's a rundown of the best vaporizers money can buy, no matter what your style is.
Emerging Tech

Get one of the best cheap drones you can buy, and cry less when you crash

Want to get in on all this hot drone action, but don't want to spend half a paycheck to make it happen? There are actually lots of feature-packed budget options. Check out this list of the best drones under $500.
Product Review

Parrot Anafi drone review

It’s definitely not perfect, and there are a few little things that could be improved, but even so, Anafi is unquestionably the best drone that Parrot has ever made.
Emerging Tech

Here are the best (and least likely to explode) hoverboards you can buy

With widespread reports of cheap, knock-off Chinese hoverboards exploding, these self-balancing scooters may be getting a rough reputation. They're not all bad, though. Ride in style with our picks for the best -- and safest -- hoverboards
Emerging Tech

Looking for a good read? Here are the best, most eye-opening books about tech

Sometimes it's sensible to put down the gadgets and pick up a good old-fashioned book -- to read about the latest gadgets, of course. Here are the tech books you need to check out.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX Starlink: Here’s everything you need to know

SpaceX Starlink is the name of Elon Musk's ambitious plan to blanket the globe with high speed broadband internet via a network of satellites. Here's everything you need to know about it
Emerging Tech

Flying food: Uber has set a target date to use drones for meal delivery

Uber is better known for transporting people around town, but it also has a growing meal-delivery business called UberEats. It currently uses drivers and cyclists to deliver the food, but also has plans to use drones.
Wearables

NYPD pulls thousands of body cams after one explodes

The NYPD has recalled thousands of body cameras after one of them exploded during an officer's shift on Sunday, October 21. No one was injured in the incident, which is thought to have been caused by the device's battery.
Emerging Tech

From electron microscopes to X-rays, high-tech tools expose low-tech art forgery

At the Indianapolis Museum of Art, conservation scientist Greg Smith and Glennis Rayermann, then a Ph.D student, used high-tech equipment to determine if a painting was made by master forger Icilio Federico Joni.
Emerging Tech

There’s finally a way to trace ‘untraceable’ 3D printed guns

To help track 3D-printed guns, researchers have developed a new algorithm which is able to identify which 3D printer was used to print an object, based on its unique fingerprint. Here's how.