Experimental AI can steal PINs and passwords - [Your weekly digest 13/2019]

Dear Global Risk Community Member, Apr 1, 2019

Experimental AI can steal PINs and passwords by listening to finger taps

Keyloggers aren’t the only way malicious hackers can get at your phone or tablet’s passcode.

In a preprint paper “A new acoustic side channel on smartphones“ published on Arxiv.org this week, researchers describe a novel attack that recovers characters typed on a virtual keyboard from sounds generated by finger taps.

“We found the device’s microphone(s) can recover this wave and ‘hear’ the finger’s touch,

and the wave’s distortions are characteristic of the tap’s location on the screen,”

the paper’s coauthors wrote. “Hence, by recording audio through the built-in microphone(s),

a malicious app can infer text as the user enters it on their device.”


They list a number of ways the attack might be mitigated — for instance, with physical switches

that allow users to switch off the microphones, mics that have lower sampling frequencies,

and additional glass layers on top of screens that could absorb most finger tap noise —

but concede that the most obvious solutions have design and usability drawbacks.

They instead posit (1) a mechanism that reports which sensors are active, and

(2) “a secure attention sequence” for passwords or other sensitive text entry that blocks all sensors temporarily.


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