Turn Your Smartphone Into a Spy Phone

Straight out of James Bond and directly into the real world – that’s where the iPhone 4 and 4S have taken spy technology. With the built-in camera, microphone, GPS, and access to the Internet’s plethora of information, it’s almost a given that smartphones can be used to encroach upon other peoples’ privacy.
You might instinctively conclude that this has been achieved through the phone’s microphone, but you’d only be right in your thinking, not your suspicion. The microphone of most smartphones is apparently far too sensitive to be able to pickup the vibrations of typing fingers effectively. Instead, those at Georgia Tech discovered that the accelerometer inherent in even prepaid phones could be used to pickup the individual noises of keystrokes. While their first attempt with an iPhone 3GS had minimal results, the gyroscopic improvements of the 4 and 4S and the generations of phones in general afterward vastly improved the spying capabilities.

So how does this work, exactly? It’s a little complicated, but basically when placed within a proper range of someone typing, the accelerometer helps determine where in relation to each other the typed keys are. When pairing the sounds up two-at-a-time to better establish a followable pattern, the Georgia Tech researchers were able to project with 80% accuracy the words being typed by an individual.

How can it be used against you? Malware creators could potentially find a way to install software onto your smartphone device that allows accelerometer pickups to be received remotely. Unlike the microphone, the accelerometer in most smartphones is not safeguarded against third-party interference. Once the software has been put into place, a hacker can listen in when the user is typing on a computer, and can pick up on passwords, bank account information, and countless other tidbits that reveal personal information and identity.

Will this become a commonplace occurrence? According to the Georgia Tech researchers, probably not. It’s far too complex of a system to master for most would-be spies and identity thieves, at least the ones that the majority of the population need to worry about.

Let’s just hope Georgia Tech doesn’t lay off its computer sciences division anytime soon.

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