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20 October 2011, 17:06

iPhone "senses" input on PC keyboard

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Researchers have found a way to use an iPhone to read the input on a PC keyboard based on table vibrations. A team from Georgia Tech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) analysed the data collected by an iPhone 4's accelerometers lying next to a PC keyboard.

When keys are pressed, they cause vibrations that the sensors can analyse. The researchers not only evaluated individual keys, but also successive combinations. It turns out that they were able to at least roughly determine the key's position and the distance between the keys. To help determine which word had been typed, a list of 58,000 words was used along with the possible combinations of locations on the keyboard. The detection rate is reportedly around 80 per cent.

Attackers could, with a specially crafted app installed on an attacker's iPhone or on a victim's iPhone, use this method to spy on users working on their PCs. But the researchers are not worried about any practical attacks yet. To be on the safe side, you can keep your iPhone away from your keyboard or put it in a case or sleeve. Any data collected is then practically worthless.

In August, researchers demonstrated how the accelerometers in smartphones can record on-screen keyboard input. The researchers managed to identify which virtual keys had been pressed based on the vibrations caused. Under Android, apps do not need special rights to query individual sensors, and so a spy app could potentially monitor all of the user's input.


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