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How Touch Screens Could Shrug Off Shoulder Surfers


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Screens that can detect multiple simultaneous touches enable new methods of secure pass-code entry that address the problem of snooping by "shoulder surfers."

Credit: Jon Challicom / Alamy

Users of touch-screen gadgets must contend with snoopers, and researchers at Britain's Newcastle University and elsewhere are working on alternative input mechanisms to thwart shoulder surfing, based on touch screens that can detect multiple simultaneous touches.

ColorRings, developed by Newcastle's Paul Dunphy and Patrick Olivier in collaboration with colleagues at Northumbria University, is one such system. ColorRings is based on a user recalling a sequence of pictorial icons rather than numbers, and when entering this code, users are presented with a screen littered with icons, including their four secret ones. The users use their fingers to drag four different colored circles so that each surrounds the correct icon — and with each circle big enough to ring as many as six icons, it is impossible for snoopers to know which icon is part of the code.

Meanwhile, an authentication system also developed by Olivier's team requires the user to choose a different known face in each of a sequence of grids containing numerous faces. The method is designed to deter shoulder surfers by having the user place three fingers on each grid, highlighting three rows or columns of faces. Northumbria University's David Kim says that users apply extra pressure to the row in which the known face is to make their actual choice, "so the user is not directly selecting each face."

From New Scientist
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