Scientists just proved your phone’s PIN can be cracked using its gyroscope data

Forgot PIN Android
Simon Hill / Digital Trends
It’s no secret that smartphone PIN codes are not perfect, but new research suggests they might be next to worthless. A team of scientists at Newcastle University in the U.K. was able to guess a user’s phone PIN code with nothing more than data from the device’s sensors.

In a paper published in International Journal of Information security, researchers demonstrated how a phone’s gyroscope — the sensor that tracks the rotation and orientation of your wrist — could be used to guess a four-digit PIN code with a high degree of accuracy. In one test, the team cracked a passcode with 70 percent accuracy. By the fifth attempt, the accuracy had gone up to 100 percent.

It takes a lot of data, to be sure. The Guardian notes users had to type 50 known PINs five times before the researchers’ algorithm learned how they held a phone when typing each particular number. But it highlights the danger of malicious apps that gain access to a device’s sensors without requesting permission.

“Most smartphones, tablets, and other wearables are now equipped with a multitude of sensors,” Dr. Maryam Mehrnezhad, a research fellow in the Newcastle University School of Computing Science and lead author on the paper, said. “But because mobile apps and websites don’t need to ask permission to access most of them, malicious programs can covertly ‘listen in’ on your sensor data.”

The risk extends beyond PIN codes. In total, the team identified 25 different smartphone sensors which could expose compromising user information. Worse still, only a small number — such as the camera and GPS — ask the user’s permission before granting access to that data.

It’s precise enough to track behavior. Using an “orientation” and “motion trace” data, the researchers were able to determine what part of a web page a user was clicking on and what they were typing.

“It’s a bit like doing a jigsaw — the more pieces you put together, the easier it is to see the picture,” Dr. Siamak Shahandashti, a senior research associate in the School of Computing Science and co-author on the study, said.

Mehrenzhad said the team reached out to leading browser providers to alert them of the issue and that Mozilla and Safari have implemented fixes. But she said that researchers are still working with the industry to find a better fix.

“We all clamor for the latest phone with the latest features and better user experience but because there is no uniform way of managing sensors across the industry, they pose a real threat to our personal security,” Mehrenzhad said. “It’s a battle between usability and security.”

Emerging Tech

How Super Mario, Magic: The Gathering, and PowerPoint are low-key supercomputers

What if the creators of Super Mario World, PowerPoint, and even Magic: The Gathering had accidentally created tools hiding a general-purpose computer in plain sight? Turns out they have.
Business

The 15 best tech jobs boast top salaries, high satisfaction, lots of openings

Late spring weather isn’t the only thing heating up. The technology sector offers some of the hottest jobs in the country, and talent and experience are in high demand. May is blooming with thousands of high-paying positions all over the…
Emerging Tech

Think your kid might have an ear infection? This app can confirm it

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a new A.I.-powered smartphone app that’s able to listen for ear infections with a high level of accuracy. Here's how it works.
Computing

ZombieLoad is Meltdown resurrected. Here’s how to secure your PC right now

This year's follow up to Intel's Meltdown and Spectre chipocalypse is the new MDS attack. Four distinct attack methods have been uncovered that could leave your data exposed, but thankfully patches are already available.
Mobile

Grab it as soon as it pops up: The OnePlus 7 Pro is now available for sale

The OnePlus 7 Pro has been revealed, and it's a monster of a phone with a stunning redesign, a pop-up selfie camera, powerful flagship specs, and a price that's hundreds of dollars less than the competition.
Mobile

Mad U.K. retailer slashes 99% off Google Pixel 3a price for a few lucky buyers

The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are considered to be two of the best Android smartphones, but it looks like Google could be prepping a midrange line. Say hello to the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL.
Mobile

The Realme X is so cheap and so good that it defies the rules of economics

The Realme X has a 48-megapixel camera, an in-display fingerprint sensor, an AMOLED screen, and a Snapdragon 710 processor, yet it costs from $220. We've tried out the phone to see if it's too good to be true.
Mobile

How to use recovery mode to fix your Android phone or tablet

If you’re having a problem you can’t seem to resolve with your Android device, or maybe you want to update it or wipe the cache, recovery mode could be what you’re looking for. Here's how to get your Android phone into recovery mode.
Home Theater

Why you can’t buy Car Thing, Spotify’s first hardware device

Spotify created a voice-activated, in-car device that lets you listen to music and podcasts. But Car Thing, as it is known, is not for sale. Instead, it will be used to gather data from a limited set of customers.
Social Media

Be the master of your own Insta-verse with multiple Instagram accounts

Whether you own a small business or have separate Instagram accounts for your five cats, we'll walk you through the process of switching between your multiple accounts on your Apple or Android devices.
Mobile

Can Apple or Samsung steal the OnePlus 7 Pro's flagship killer title?

OnePlus has long been the go-to for flagship specs under a flagship price. But now Apple and Samsung have challengers in the arena, and they want the Flagship Killer crown for themselves. Who wins? We found out.
Deals

Turn your Apple tablet into a laptop with one of these iPad keyboard cases

A keyboard case serves to both protect your iPad and give you a set of laptop keys. You don’t have to shell out tons of cash for a good one, either; if you’re looking for a way to turn your iPad into a 2-in-1 laptop, check these deals…
Mobile

Google Pixel 4 will reportedly ditch physical buttons and display notch

The Google Pixel 4 will reportedly feature massive design changes, including the removal of clickable power and volume keys in favor of capacitive touch areas. The smartphone is also said to be dropping the display notch.
Deals

Here’s one thing you need to do before giving your child a smartphone or tablet

Monitoring your kids' digital habits can be a challenge in today’s high-tech age, but great parental control software like Qustodio gives parents a much-needed advantage. Learn how you can protect your child from online dangers.