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Japanese password protector floods screen with hoax cursors

Password peepers foiled by camouflaged cursor

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Japanese boffins have demonstrated a rather nifty way of preventing online password theft by screen capture and shoulder surfing – flood the screen with a barrage of dummy cursors.

Researchers at the government backed Japan Science and Technology (JST) Agency showed off the rather unusual approach to preventing fraud to local tech vid site DigInfoTV.

The technique works by camouflaging the user’s cursor so anyone looking over their shoulder or remotely taking screen grabs of the page will not be able to detect which keys on the software keyboard are being chosen.

The dummy cursors are designed to move in a random fashion across the screen to make it even more difficult to spot the real one, although apparently they need to number around 20 before detection rates drop to low enough levels.

"At first sight, it looks as if the user, too, will get confused which cursor is real,” said Keita Watanabe of the JST’s Igarashi Design Interface Project.

“But when you try this system, it's surprisingly easy to understand which one is your cursor. Observers though, don't know which cursor you're using.”

The project, part of the JST’s long running research program Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology (ERATO), has also been working on designs for circular software keyboards to fool password peepers.

The SymmetricCursors system also uses dummy cursors to hide the movement of the real one, but with each moving at the same speed around a clock-face keyboard it becomes even more difficult to obtain the user’s PIN.

The researchers will be looking to spin out other security applications based on this technology but first need to “find out more about how people recognise their cursor”, by studying eye-tracker and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests, Watanabe claimed. ®

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