Your Android Pattern Lock isn’t secure at all, research suggests

android pattern lock

Modern Android devices give users a number of authentication methods. From fingerprints to PIN codes, there are a slew of options to unlock your dear device. But some people still rely on the ancient Pattern Lock.

Researchers from Britain’s universities of Bath and Lancaster, and China’s Northwest University, suggest that sliding your thumb seemingly uniquely across nine equidistant dots on a screen isn’t as secure as you may have thought.

The researchers noted that by using a recorded “video and computer vision algorithm software” — effectively recording the motion of the hand over the screen — the Pattern Lock can be cracked within five attempts.

And no, that super cute, super complicated code actually makes things easier for the algorithm. Researchers also discovered that complex codes actually helps the software to narrow down possible options.

The team cracked 95% of the 120 unique lock codes they were given using the above method.

You might want to cover up the next time you Pattern Lock your Android device in public

“Pattern Lock is a very popular protection method for Android Devices. As well as for locking their devices, people tend to use complex patterns for important financial transactions such as online banking and shopping because they believe it is a secure system,” explains Dr Zheng Wang, a principle researcher on the paper.

“However, our findings suggest that using Pattern Lock to protect sensitive information could actually be very risky.”

While the does highlight the feeble strength of the Pattern Lock system, it’s not exactly all that easy to replicate for everyday data thieves or pranksters.

Attackers will somehow require footage of the target unlocking their phone, even if said footage doesn’t feature the phone’s screen. While a mental snapshot would work too, you could also argue this point: surely simply seeing someone’s finger movements across a screen could help one crack four-digit PIN codes as well?

It could also be argued that simply retracing smudges on the screen could work as well.

Ultimately, the researchers give a few tips on how to protect your Pattern Lock combination, including “fully covering fingers when drawing the pattern” or “having the screen colour and brightness change dynamically”.

We’d just recommend changing your unlocking method to a password or, you know, purchase a phone with a fingerprint reader if you’re serious about device security.

Andy Walker


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