Feeds

Freeze, Glasshole! Stop spying on me at the ATM

Wearable cams can record your PIN from 40 paces

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

Google Glass wearers can snoop on passcodes and other sensitive information with only a passing glance, according to a proof-of-concept demo by security researchers.

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Lowell were able to use video streams from wearables like Google Glass and the Samsung smartwatch to capture four-digit PIN codes typed onto an iPad from around three metres away.

Video recognition software developed by the team was capable of identifying passcodes most of the time, even when the screen is unreadable because of glare or similar problems. An understanding of an iPad’s geometry means that simply knowing the position of a user’s fingers is enough for the snooping technology to work, Wired reports.

The UMass researchers tested a variety of video-enabled devices including Google Glass, an iPhone 5 camera and a Logitech webcam. Glass was capable of identifying four-digit PINs from three metres away with 83 per cent accuracy, or even better with manual correction. Webcam video was even better, proving effective 92 per cent of the time and the iPhone’s sharper camera fared better still, producing correct results almost all of the time. The camera on the Samsung smartwatch was roughly on par with the Google Glass camera.

The performance of the technology largely depended on the quality of the video input. The researchers were able to capture the PIN typed on a glare-obscured screen from more than 40 meters away using a Panasonic camcorder’s optical zoom, the Daily Mail reports.

The UMass team, led by Dr. Xinwen Fu, an associate professor, is due to present findings from its research during the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas in August.

The research is really about the security shortcomings of the passcodes entered into tablets and smartphones and, by extension, PINs entered into ATMs or point-of-sale terminals rather than the new and scary snooping potential created by Google's hi-tech specs and comparable consumer tech.

In a statement, Google said the risk highlighted by the academics was nothing new. Representatives of the search engine giant contended that its hi-tech glasses were ill-suited to serve as a spying device.

Unfortunately, stealing passwords by watching people as they type them into ATMs and laptops is nothing new. We designed Glass with privacy in mind. The fact that Glass is worn above the eyes and the screen lights up whenever it's activated clearly signals it's in use and makes it a fairly lousy surveillance device.

Brian Honan, an independent security consultant who serves as a special advisor on internet security to Europol, told El Reg that the issue is nothing new nor particular to Google Glass.

"Devices that can capture images such as camera, mobile phones, PCs, etc. have always posed a threat to sensitive information," Honan explained. "Anyone with a device with these capabilities can record sensitive data or capture other information such as PINs or passwords."

"People should always be aware of their environment when entering passwords or PIN numbers to ensure they are not overlooked. Even when there is no-one around you should assume that someone could observe what you are doing by cameras with zoom lens, Google Glass, hidden cameras, or indeed CCTV cameras," he added.

Honan said that the risk of snooping in general meant consumers would be well advised to always cover a PIN pad when typing in their PIN, especially at a cash till in shops. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
PEAK APPLE: iOS 8 is least popular Cupertino mobile OS in all of HUMAN HISTORY
'Nerd release' finally staggers past 50 per cent adoption
Tim Cook: The classic iPod HAD to DIE, and this is WHY
Apple, er, couldn’t get the parts for HDD models
Apple spent just ONE DOLLAR beefing up the latest iPad Air 2
New iPads look a lot like the old one. There's a reason for that
Google Glassholes are UNDATEABLE – HP exec
You need an emotional connection, says touchy-feely MD... We can do that
Caterham Seven 160 review: The Raspberry Pi of motoring
Back to driving's basics with a joyously legal high
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.
Mitigating web security risk with SSL certificates
Web-based systems are essential tools for running business processes and delivering services to customers.