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Taping Over Your Webcam Might not be Enough to Stop Hackers from Spying on You

Accepted submission by fliptop at 2024-02-02 12:05:19 from the I-can-see-you-through-the-keyhole dept.

Apparently the bad guys can now use a device's ambient light sensor []:

That tape over your webcam may not be enough. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have highlighted imaging privacy threats enabled by ambient light sensors, in a paper recently published in Science Advances []. Device users concerned with security [] and privacy may be comforted by hardware solutions (shutters) and software permissions restricting webcam [] use. However, researchers have shown visual information can be gathered via one of the common ambient light sensors installed in many devices. These small sensors usually aren’t shuttered or disabled by users and are typically permission-free on a device level.

Ambient light sensors are categorized as low-risk by device makers and can often be accessed directly by software (or malware) without any permissions or privileges. Nevertheless, previous studies have shown such a rudimentary sensor can provide enough information to infer keystrokes on a virtual keyboard and steal a device PIN [], about 80% of the time. The new research shows what an ambient light sensor can do when combined with an active light source component – namely the device' screen.

For their experiments, the MIT researchers used a Samsung Galaxy View 2. This rather old and large (17.3-inch) consumer tablet has its ambient light sensor next to the front-facing (selfie) camera, which is still a very common configuration.

[...] The scientists explained that the ambient light sensor reads the light emitted by the screen shining on a person’s face and being partially blocked by the hand / screen interaction. A whole lot of complicated math, aided by AI and image processing technology, was used by the researchers to deliver their results.

Journal Reference: Imaging privacy threats from an ambient light sensor - Yang Liu, Gregory W. Wornell, William T. Freeman, and Frédo Durand - []

Related: Now That Everyone's Using Zoom, Here Are Some Privacy Risks You Need to Watch Out For []

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