Hackers may soon listen in on how smartphone users type to intercept passwords

Mackenzie Garrity - Print  | 

Hackers may soon be able to steal passwords and other data by simply analyzing the sounds of typing on different devices, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Research continues to be done that suggests the acoustic signals, known as sound waves, that are produced when users type on phones a could be intercepted by hackers to gain access to text messages, passwords, PINs and other provide information.

The cyberattacks could happen, for example, if a smartphone user downloaded an app that was infected with malware that allowed hackers to gain access to smartphone sensors like microphones, accelerometers and gyroscopes, reports WSJ.

In one study, the microphones in Android devices were used to pick up the vibrations that are produced when users type on the virtual keyboard. The sound waves were recorded and then interpreted to dissect where on the screen a user was typing and which keys.

For the 45-person study, researchers were able to recover numerical codes, letters and whole words. In 10 attempts, researchers, who were using a machine learning algorithm that classified each vibration, were able to hack seven out of 27 passwords on a smartphone and 19 out of 27 passwords on a tablet.

While research suggests that this form of cyberattack is possible, the threat is not immediate, according to Murtuza Jadliwala, PhD, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

One reason acoustic hacking may be difficult, is because the machine learning algorithm used in academic studies is trained to evaluate sound waves. However, in a real-world setting environmental factors could interfere with the signals, Dr. Jadliwala said.

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