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Android phone lock patterns can be cracked easily – here’s how to protect yourself

Researchers have warned that a popular method for locking Android smartphones can be cracked in just five attempts.

The lock pattern method, which involves tracing an outline across a grid of dots, is used by many to secure their Android phones.

But the researchers at Lancaster University, the University of Bath, and Northwest University in China say they have managed to crack 95% of 120 unique lock patterns in less than five attempts.

Related: MWC 2017

The team used video recordings and computer vision algorithm software to break the patterns, and have warned that criminals don’t need to see your phone screen in order to identify the correct pattern.

A computer vision algorithm was used to track the fingertip movements of users and identify the pattern using video footage filmed on smartphone cameras.

The researhers also warned that more complex patterns are actually easier to identify, writing: “We discovered that, in contrast to many people’s belief, complex patterns do not offer stronger protection under our attacking scenarios.

“This is demonstrated by the fact that we are able to break all but one complex patterns (with a 97.5% success rate) as opposed to 60% of the simple patterns in the first attempt.

“Since our threat model is common in day-to-day life, this paper calls for the community to revisit the risks of using Android pattern lock to protect sensitive information.”

Those looking to break lock patterns apparently only need to sit within two and a half metres of the targeted user to film the finger movements used to unlock the device – even if the screen is out of view.

This footage can then be fed into the finger-tracking software to identify a set of possible lock patterns to try.

Protecting against this approach is fairly straightforward. You could obviously cover your hand when you unlock your phone but the safest thing to do is switch to something like a PIN code or fingerprint scanning to secure your handset.

The researchers have also suggested companies improve their systems by mixing pattern locks with other unlocking methods.

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Let us know what you think of the research in the comments.

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