5 Attempts is All it Takes to Crack Your Android Pattern Lock

Pattern lock is one of the most popular ways for smartphone users to secure their devices but to the surprise of many, these patterns can be cracked within five attempts by using video and computer vision algorithm software, research claims.

lockscreen lock

According to researchers at Lancaster University, Northwest Universiy of China and the University of Bath, Pattern Locks can be cracked within five attempts and the more complicated the pattern, the easier it is to crack it open.

Pattern lock is the more preferred form of encrypting — over PIN or text-based locks — an Android device as around 40% of users enable pattern lock to secure their device.

“People tend to use complex patterns for important financial transactions such as online banking and shopping because they believe it is a secure system. However, our findings suggest that using Pattern Lock to protect sensitive information could actually be very risky”, said Dr Zheng Wang, Lecturer at University of Lancaster and co-author of the research paper titled ‘Cracking Android pattern lock in five attempts’.

The researchers evaluated 120 unique patterns collected from 215 users using a smartphone camera and the algorithm was able to crack 95% of these patterns within five attempts.

87.5% of median complex patterns and 60% of simple patterns were cracked by the algorithm in the first attempt.

The computer vision algorithm tracks the fingerprint movements of the user on the screen while they draw the pattern lock and produces a limited number of probable patterns to unlock the device.

The research, which is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), shows that complex patterns are usually used by most people as they’re hard for an observer to understand, but the fingertip algorithm actually benefits from these multi-line patterns as it helps the algorithm to narrow down the possibilities.

Settings > General > Software Update. Do it now. | Photo: Shutterstock
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According to the researchers, the algorithm works even if the video recorded doesn’t have a clear focus on the contents of the screen and the screen size of the device is immaterial too.

The algorithm makes an accurate fingertip movement prediction even if the video recorded on the smartphone is from a distance up to 2.5 metres and 9 metres for DLSR recordings.

The researchers also suggest countermeasures for securing your pattern lock, which include covering your screen while drawing the pattern lock or to have a dynamically changing screen brightness or colour contrast in order to confuse such an algorithm also works.

These days smartphones are coming with biometric security measures such as fingerprint scanner or Iris scanner and if you own a smartphone which is equipped with either of those, then there is really nothing this algorithm can do to crack open your phone.

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