The lock pattern on your Android smartphone can be hacked in just 5 seconds

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Security researchers have discovered that a popular way used to unlock Android smartphones is incredibly easy to crack.

The Pattern Lock System, which is available on tens of millions of Android handsets can be hacked in just a few guesses by cyber criminals using sophisticated purpose built software, it has been revealed.

It can take as little as five attempts to guess the correct lock pattern to unlock the device.

The revelation potentially puts millions of users at risk.

The news comes from a Chinese/British research team based at Lancaster University, who carried out a study to discover how secure the Pattern Lock System really is.

In the study, the researchers claim that as many as 40 percent of Android users use Pattern Lock to access their phones.

However, the team found that the system, whereby a user traces a pattern onto their screen to unlock their phone, can be easily hacked.

The researchers explained how they developed their own unique algorithm that was capable of cracking Pattern Lock codes simply by using video footage of their victims accessing their device.

The researchers said that in theory, phones could be easily hacked if victims were filmed using their phone in public.

The footage would then need to be uploaded into the algorithm, which sets about guessing the pattern used to unlock the device.

Researchers warned that potential attackers would not even need to be close to the victim, as they were still able to hack phones from footage record more than two and a half meters away using a regular smartphone camera, and from a whopping nine meters away using a high quality digital SLR camera.

Pattern Lock System on Android

Pattern Lock System on Android. Image: Lancaster University

The researchers said they carried out attacks on 120 different lock patterns from 215 users and a staggering 95 percent of patterns could be cracked within 5 attempts.

They also warned that using a longer pattern will not prevent a phone being hacked, as longer patterns were found to be easier to crack, with 97.7 percent cracked at the first attempt.

“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,” said Dr Zheng Wang, assistant professor at Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications and co-author of the report.

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

How to protect yourself

Dr Wang and his team say that the only real way users can protect themselves is make sure they keep their screen and fingers hidden when unlocking their device with Pattern Lock, in the same way it is recommended to hide your PIN when using an ATM.

Via: Lancaster University

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