Keep Your Touchscreen Clean To Protect Against Smudge Attacks

The swirls of greasy fingerprints and smudges on your smartphone's screen aren't just unsightly they're also a potential security weakness that can give someone unauthorised access to your phone.

Photo by Dave Bleasdale.

University of Pennsylvania researchers have found a the vulnerability in touchscreen-based security systems. The primary focus of their research was analysing the swipe-style unlock system on Android phones. They had a surprisingly easy time recreating the access codes on touchscreen systems using nothing more than a camera and a computer with some basic photo-editing software. By photographing the screen at an angle, increasing the contrast and studying the directional patterns of the smudges, they were able to unlock the Android security screen 92 per cent of the time.

Interestingly, putting the phone into a pocket didn't provide enough contact with the screen to clean the screen and in all cases they were able to retrieve the pattern. Cleaning it with a cleaning cloth or a screen cleaner, however, removed the evidence and secured the screen. Finally you can justify your frequent screen cleaning as a security precaution. Check out the full study white paper at the link below or sound off in the comments with your ideas on how touchscreens could be designed with security in mind.

Smudge Attacks on Smartphone Touch Screens (PDF) [via PC Pro]



    Sorry lifehacker... gotta agree. Though it's not your fault. What a dumb study. This is assuming the only thing you do on your phone is put in the unlock pattern, then put it back in your pocket. My phone (even though i don't use the unlock pattern) has smudges going every which way, and by the time I'm done using it, there's no way I can see where i've moved the unlock slider when I turned the phone on.

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