Unsplash via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Unsplash via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Your Smartwatch Could Give Hackers Your PIN and Passwords

Unsplash via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Unsplash via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Keeping your bank account safe at an ATM or electronically locked door used to be simple: Check to make sure nobody is watching you and block the keypad from view while you type in your code. You should still do those things, but you might also want to take off your smartwatch first; researchers say hackers could use wearable tech to figure out your PIN and other codes. They recently published their findings in a paper titled, "Friend or Foe?: Your Wearable Devices Reveal Your Personal PIN" [PDF], for the proceedings of the 11th annual Association for Computing Machinery Asia Conference on Computer and Communications Security. 

Researchers at the Stevens Institute of Technology are working on a number of studies on security in wearable and mobile technology. For this experiment, they recruited 20 adults, who collectively punched their codes into ATMs and other keypads 5000 times over the course of 11 months while wearing various technologies. Back in the lab, the researchers scraped precise movement information from the devices’ accelerometers, gyrometers, and magnetometers to see if they could figure out exactly what the subjects were doing with their bodies, especially their hands. 

Boy, could they. By combining and comparing those measurements, Wang and his colleagues were able to create an algorithm that determined not only where a hand was in space and how it was positioned, but what it did next. The "Backward PIN-sequence Inference Algorithm" was so good that it could crack subjects’ codes with 80 percent accuracy on the very first try.

The researchers say hackers would have to employ one of two types of attacks to get at your information: internal or sniffing. An internal attack would require the bad guy to break into the sensors inside your device and use them for his or her own purposes. In a sniffing attack, data thieves might place a wireless data collector near an ATM or keypad-locked door in order to eavesdrop on any nearby Bluetooth interactions between wearable devices and their owners’ phones. 

These are, as yet, theoretical concerns, since the researchers know of no cases in which this has actually happened. Yet the threat exists. To shield users from attack, the researchers recommend that tech developers "…inject a certain type of noise to data so it cannot be used to derive fine-grained hand movements, while still being effective for fitness tracking purposes such as activity recognition or step counts." 

We’re not totally helpless. Although security programs for wearables are thin at the moment, you can at least shore up your phone’s defenses.

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

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MARS Bioimaging
The World's First Full-Color 3D X-Rays Have Arrived
MARS Bioimaging
MARS Bioimaging

The days of drab black-and-white, 2D X-rays may finally be over. Now, if you want to see what your broken ankle looks like in all its full-color, 3D glory, you can do so thanks to new body-scanning technology. The machine, spotted by BGR, comes courtesy of New Zealand-based manufacturer MARS Bioimaging.

It’s called the MARS large bore spectral scanner, and it uses spectral molecular imaging (SMI) to produce images that are fully colorized and in 3D. While visually appealing, the technology isn’t just about aesthetics—it could help doctors identify issues more accurately and provide better care.

Its pixel detectors, called “Medipix” chips, allow the machine to identify colors and distinguish between materials that look the same on regular CT scans, like calcium, iodine, and gold, Buzzfeed reports. Bone, fat, and water are also differentiated by color, and it can detect details as small as a strand of hair.

“It gives you a lot more information, and that’s very useful for medical imaging. It enables you to do a lot of diagnosis you can’t do otherwise,” Phil Butler, the founder/CEO of MARS Bioimaging and a physicist at the University of Canterbury, says in a video. “When you [have] a black-and-white camera photographing a tree with its leaves, you can’t tell whether the leaves are healthy or not. But if you’ve got a color camera, you can see whether they’re healthy leaves or diseased.”

The images are even more impressive in motion. This rotating image of an ankle shows "lipid-like" materials (like cartilage and skin) in beige, and soft tissue and muscle in red.

The technology took roughly a decade to develop. However, MARS is still working on scaling up production, so it may be some time before the machine is available commercially.

[h/t BGR]

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ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
Look Closely—Every Point of Light in This Image Is a Galaxy
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Even if you stare closely at this seemingly grainy image, you might not be able to tell there’s anything to it besides visual noise. But it's not static—it's a sliver of the distant universe, and every little pinprick of light is a galaxy.

As Gizmodo reports, the image was produced by the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, a space-based infrared telescope that was launched into orbit in 2009 and was decommissioned in 2013. Created by Herschel’s Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) and Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS), it looks out from our galaxy toward the North Galactic Pole, a point that lies perpendicular to the Milky Way's spiral near the constellation Coma Berenices.

A close-up of a view of distant galaxies taken by the Herschel Space Observatory
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Each point of light comes from the heat of dust grains between different stars in a galaxy. These areas of dust gave off this radiation billions of years before reaching Herschel. Around 1000 of those pins of light belong to galaxies in the Coma Cluster (named for Coma Berenices), one of the densest clusters of galaxies in the known universe.

The longer you look at it, the smaller you’ll feel.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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