Most people using smart devices have a simple password set up — four digits that protect your phone or tablet from prying eyes and theft. Usually, these passwords are quite easy to protect when in public; just type it in quickly and no one will notice, especially outdoors sun glare makes it hard to read your screen. However, if you find yourself typing in your password in the presence of a Google Glass wearer, beware.
University of Massachusetts-Lowell researchers found that the cameras available on some forms of wearable technology, like Google Glass and Samsung's smart watches, can be used to pick up four-digit passcodes typed into an iPad from about 10 feet away. If they are wearing a high-definition video camera, they can be up to 150 feet away. This is done through a custom algorithm which picks up on shadows from finger taps. This way, even if the camera does not capture the screen, someone could still determine the passcode just by recording your series of taps.
“I think of this as a kind of alert about Google Glass, smartwatches, all these devices,” Xinwen Fu, a computer science professor at UMass Lowell, told Wired, “If someone can take a video of you typing on the screen, you lose everything.”
Fu and his fellow researchers determined that Glass could determine a four-digit passcode from about 10 feet away with 83 percent accuracy. A webcam video determined the code 92 percent of the time, and an iPhone camera found the code in every test they performed. The Samsung watches were the least tested, but the limited tests had similar results to Glass.
Of all the devices tested, Fu felt strongly that Google Glass was prime for password theft. “Any camera works, but you can’t hold your iPhone over someone to do this,” said Fu. “Because Glass is on your head, it’s perfect for this kind of sneaky attack.”
This video recognition software created by Fu and his team is quite advanced, but it's possible that sophisticated hackers have developed even more advanced techniques of this kind.
In order to help protect people from this new form of hacking, Fu's team came up with an Android add-on. It randomizes the layout of the keyboard on the lock screen. Because the keyboard is never in the same place, the finger tap shadows cannot be used, the geometry of the screen is off. It will be available in the Google Play store soon.
So, not only are Google Glass users kind of alienating, they are also prime candidates for stealing your passwords. Rather than stop hanging out with your Glass loving buddies, we'd recommend just setting up a longer password. Ten digits will do the trick.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.