Smart Phones Listening to Our Keystrokes

A recent study from Georgia Tech found a way to turn smart phones into key loggers. They utilized the accelerometer in newer smart phones, listen to the vibrations of your typing.

The accelerometer would need to be pretty sensitive. The researches said that the Iphone 3GS, for example, does not work as accurately. The Iphone 4 is sensitive enough to utilize this software.

It comes in the form of an app that you would presumably download, not realizing that the spying softwar was hidden within. When ‘listening’ to your key strokes, the app recognizes combinations of letters, based on whether the key strokes are on the right or left of your keyboard.

The article I read gave this example:

For example, take the word “canoe,” which when typed breaks down into four keystroke pairs: “C-A, A-N, N-O and O-E.” Those pairs then translate into the detection system’s code as follows: Left-Left-Near, Left-Right-Far, Right-Right-Far and Right-Left-Far, or LLN-LRF-RRF-RLF. This code is then compared to the preloaded dictionary and yields “canoe” as the statistically probable typed word. Working with dictionaries comprising about 58,000 words, the system reached word-recovery rates as high as 80 percent.

80 percent is pretty impressive, but that’s relying on a few things. For one, the phone has to be pretty close to the keyboard. You also need to be working on a solid, stationary surface. If you work at a desk, it’s pretty easy to imagine setting your phone down next to your keyboard to work. If you’re like me, however, you don’t work at a desk. I often work with my laptop on my lap, so this sort of attack would not work.

Easy ways to thwart this sort of attack would be simply putting your phone in a purse or farther away from the key board. The researchers at Georga Tech even said that it was a pretty difficult attack to create. As technology advances, and accelerometers in phones become more sensitive, this sort of attack is conceivable in the future.

Do you guys work at desks? If so, do you leave your phone near your computer? Do you feel safe from this sort of attack, or will you be keeping your phones away from your keyboards from now on?


4 thoughts on “Smart Phones Listening to Our Keystrokes

  1. Mobile devices are definitely becoming more and more the source for attacks, unfortunately. We can only hope that anti-malware apps can help defend these types of attacks better then they are right now.

    • Hopefully. One of the methods they suggested in the article to prevent these attacks is to set the sensitivity of the accelerometer to a lower sdefault, and prompt the user if an application requires a higher sensitivity. That way, you can see if a todo list app is requesting a higher sensitivity, then something might be up.

  2. I don’t see this becoming a problem for quite some time, if even that. If the key-logger is on your phone then you got bigger problems to worry about. Also I don’t leave my phone by my keyboard because my speakers are close by and it they will start to make some weird noises from my phones signals.

    • Yeah, I don’t feel too threatened yet either. It’s certainly something I never even considered before though, so it makes me wonder how many other sort of attacks there are that I don’t even know exists.

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