Feeds

Boffins spy on iPhone screens from 200ft away

Shoulder surfing goes high-tech

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Vid North Carolina boffins have been watching text entered into iPhones from 60 meters (197ft) behind the shoulders of users – or from the front, by reading the reflections in the users' glasses.

The process uses a standard video camera. It is even possible using an iPhone's camera, though the range decreases and relies on the iPhone's habit of popping up big versions of characters typed. Once the video has been fed through the researcher's image stabilisation software, and run through some optical character recognition software and natural-language analysis, the meaning emerges, as this (silent) video demonstrates:

Apple's iPhone isn't the only smartphone to provide visual feedback by popping up an enlarged version of the character pressed, but the technique won't work with those that don't. The researchers also admit that alternative text-entry techniques, such as Swype, will confound the recognition, but those are only used by a minority.

There are some other videos showing how reflections can be read, and the accuracy possible, on the boffin's own site. Their full paper (PDF, interesting, but very mathematical in places) demonstrates that with a decent video camera they were able to collect very accurate renditions of what was typed from a considerable distance.

It seems that the biggest limitation was motion blur. Stabilisation can only work so well and as the characters pop up on the screen only for a moment, a single blur make a character impossible to read. That's easily addressed with better video equipment, and better analysis, but this research was deliberately based on standard kit.

One can imagine Jason Bourne using such a technique, and it's interesting to hear that it is possible. It might pay to think about one's surroundings when entering a password, but in reality there are already plenty of other threats to be concerned about without worrying about what people might be able to pick up reflected in your sunglasses. ®

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
iWallet: No BONKING PLEASE, we're Apple
BLE-ding iPhones, not NFC bonkers, will drive trend - marketeers
Multipath TCP speeds up the internet so much that security breaks
Black Hat research says proposed protocol will bork network probes, flummox firewalls
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
Microsoft's Euro cloud darkens: US FEDS can dig into foreign servers
They're not emails, they're business records, says court
Plug and PREY: Hackers reprogram USB drives to silently infect PCs
BadUSB instructs gadget chips to inject key-presses, redirect net traffic and more
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?