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BLOG: Android camera and mic to steal PINs; Motorola electronic skin tattoo to detect lies?

Darlene Storm | Nov. 12, 2013
Filing a patent application does not always lead to an actual product, but Motorola potentially has big, creepy plans to combine an electronic tattoo, that is coupled to a mobile device, with a lie-detector.

Tattoos could double as an electronic lie detector paired to smartphone?

Filing a patent application does not always lead to an actual product, but Motorola potentially has big, creepy plans to combine an electronic tattoo, that is coupled to a mobile device, with a lie-detector.  

Regina Dugan, who leads Motorola's Advanced Technology and Project group, previously discussed the future of authentication such as wearable authentication in the form of digital tattoos, or passwords that could be managed via popping a daily authentication vitamin. Dugan, the former head of DARPA, discussed those possibilities at the All Things Digital D11 conference this past summer. Apparently Motorola would like to do more authentication with digital tattoos as pointed out last week when The Register found a patent application "for a 'system and method' to tattoo a mobile-device microphone with lie-detector circuitry onto your throat."

Because we use our mobile devices in "noisy environments," the main point for the electronic skin tattoo "applied to the throat region" would be to reduce "acoustic noise with an auxiliary voice input." The description suggests the electronic tattoo would "include an embedded microphone; a transceiver for enabling wireless communication with the MCD (mobile communication device) and a power supply configured to receive energizing signals from a personal area network associated with the MCD."

According to the "Coupling an electronic skin tattoo to a mobile communication device" patent, predetermined patterns could be programmed into the electronic tattoo for different "security" functions. Examples of predetermined patterns included those that are "based on a user's vocal intonation, on a specific word or words, on a melody, or on a harmonic tone/vibration." Those predetermined patterns could serve different functions such as to stop sending data, to send a preformatted message to a predetermined destination, or to send an emergency message to 911.

The "lie-detector" portion that jumped out to The Register states, "Optionally, the electronic skin tattoo can further include a galvanic skin response detector to detect skin resistance of a user. It is contemplated that a user that may be nervous or engaging in speaking falsehoods may exhibit different galvanic skin response than a more confident, truth telling individual."

While such an electronic tattoo could be used for hands-free phone calls, it's doubtful that people would want a lie detector implanted on their throat region. But just as a patent does not always equal a product, not all proof-of-concept attacks are carried out by criminals in the real world. That doesn't stop security researchers from finding new ways to potentially steal information from smartphones.

PIN Skimmer side-channel attack
Last week, at the 3rd Annual ACM CCS Workshop on Security and Privacy in Smartphones and Mobile Devices (SPSM), University of Cambridge researcher Ross Anderson presented a new side-channel attack, "PIN Skimmer: Inferring PINs Through The Camera and Microphone" [pdf]. Anderson explained, "We found that software on your smartphone can work out what PIN you're entering by watching your face through the camera and listening for the clicks as you type." The PIN Skimmer paper states:

 

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