Smartphone Sensors Might Help Hackers Access Private Information

Smartphone camera

Smart device sensors might gain access to your private information and allow hackers to make use of it

A paper developed by researchers from Newcastle University states that the on-board sensors of smartphones and other devices might put your privacy in danger. They discovered that the tracking system of the device collects data which might help hackers crack its PIN.

After using this data, the researchers succeeded in cracking PINs made up of four digits with a 70 percent accuracy at the first try. After five tries, they reached 100 percent accuracy. Some devices or apps usually tell the users that their actions are going to be monitored, but not all of them.

Hackers use the sensors to spy on you

Some of these sensors represent features which have to do with private information, such as camera, GPS, or microphone. Many apps, even those who came by default with the phone or those that you download, might access these sensors without asking or notifying you first. Until now, many users did not even think that this could happen.

If a hacker gained access to this data collected by the sensors, he might find out a lot of details that you would not want him to know. For instance, besides finding your exact location, he might find out if you’re walking or using some other means of transportation. This issue might be caused by browsers.

For instance, if you access a page with malicious content, this might gain access to these sensors and the monitoring they perform. If you left several browser tabs open in the background, then the code can find out where you are.

Finding ways to combat the vulnerability

Dr. Maryam Mehrnezhad, the lead author of the paper, said that she and her research team addressed the big mobile companies about the problem. Many of them are aware of it, but it is not so easy to tackle this problem. At the moment, the researchers and these companies are working together to find the best solution for this vulnerability.

There is still much work to do, and some companies might hesitate from blocking the access to the sensors to certain apps. However, there are several things which users can do to protect their privacy. The most important one would be to change your PIN on a regular basis. Also, if you do not use an app, close it instead of keeping it running in the background.

The paper was published online and it can be found here.
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