Researchers Discover How To Steal Your iPad Passcode from 10 Feet Away

PIN Syping Software from UMass

As much as a Lock screen passcode is important to securing your privacy and personal information, it turns out that the four-digit simple code is not exactly the safest way to ensure no one can access your iOS device’s innards. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Lowell have created PIN-spying software that can accurately determine your passcode, even if the snooper isn’t able to see your screen at all.

According to Wired, researchers at UMass have discovered a way to steel the four-digit passcode on an iPad using a variety of camera-supported technologies. With an iPhone, Google Glass, and a Samsung smartwatch, the team was able to determine a passcode typed on an iPad from 10 feet away. Using a high-definition camcorder, they could stretch the distance to nearly 150 feet.

The software uses custom-coded video recognition algorithms to track the shadows from finger taps. Users don’t even have to record any images on the iPad display.

“I think of this as a kind of alert about Google Glass, smartwatches, all these devices,” says Xinwen Fu, a computer science professor at UMass Lowell who plans to present the findings with his students at the Black Hat security conference in August. “If someone can take a video of you typing on the screen, you lose everything.”

The team of researchers used a wide variety of recording devices, including the iPhone 5 and a Logitch webcam. Google Glass and the Samsung smartwatch were 83 percent accurate from 10 feet away. The webcam scored even higher with 92 percent accuracy. Interestingly, the iPhone 5, which is much less conspicuous than a webcam or wearable computer, was 100 percent accurate thanks to its sharper image capturing.

Although over-the-shoulder PIN stealing video technology has existed for some time now, this software is unique because it does not require the video to capture the screen’s display.

“The video recognition software can spot passcodes even when the screen is unreadable, based on its understanding of an iPad’s geometry and the position of the user’s fingers. It maps its image of the angled iPad onto a ‘reference’ image of the device, then looks for the abrupt down and up movements of the dark crescents that represent the fingers’ shadows.”

One way to better secure your iPad is to use a more complex Lock screen passcode. Check out our tutorial on creating one. You could also act paranoid and always cover the screen when you type your code to keep long-distance prying eyes away from your finger movements. People may look at you funny, but they won’t be looking at your passcode.

About Lory: Writer of all things app related, traveler of the space-time continuum, baker of really great cookies. Follow me @appaholik

  • utrph77004

    I think you meant “steAL” not “steEL.”

    • cdbma

      Really. Nobody cares anymore about quality. Can’t figure out if it’s stupidity or just being lazy. I am hopeful that Lory know the difference between the two words.