As if there wasn’t already enough concern over losing your phone and giving a stranger complete access to your personal life, a team of researchers have developed a program called iSpy that can read what’s being typed on a smartphone’s screen from up to 60m away. So you may not even see the person who’s secretly reading those sordid emails you’re sending.
The software, which was created by computer vision researcher Jan-Michael Frahm and Fabian Monrose from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is able to distinguish the letters being typed on a smartphone’s keyboard from as far as 60m away with HD video footage captured from a DSLR. When using the camera on your average phone, that range drops to about 3m instead. But it’s still close enough to snoop without being detected.
iSpy takes advantage of one of the features that has made it easier to type on a touchscreen. Those magnified pop-up letters that show you which key was just pressed. The software analyses footage of someone typing and identifies the letters being pressed by the location of those pop-ups on screen.
When the pop-ups for neighbouring letters overlap, the software makes an educated guess as to which one it was based on the context, and is claimed to be over 90 per cent accurate. But simply turning your back from a suspected snoop might not be enough. While posing a significantly more difficult challenge, the software is even able to decode messages from a reflection in a window, or even someone’s glasses. Which kind of makes those reflective privacy overlays seem a bit less like overkill now.