Your Cell Phone is Still Not to be Trusted

As a human being I don’t like it when something I use everyday becomes a trojan horse implanted in my privacy. But as a writer I do! So in spite of it being another “Oh, BTW, did you know your cell phone is working against you?” article, I was interested today when the BBC ran a bit outlining how the swypes and strokes I make on my cell phone can be hacked to record my passwords and pins.

Dr Adam J Aviv, a visiting professor at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, carried out the attacks by using data gathered by an accelerometer on a smartphone. Typically this sensor logs phone movements in three dimensions: side-to-side, forward-and-back and up-and-down.

“Other researchers had looked into ways to subvert data gathered by gyroscopes, accelerometers and other orientation sensors to work out passwords, said Dr Aviv. One group even analysed smears on touchscreens to get clues about Pins and patterns.

“We are starting to realise that the way we interact with these devices affects the security of these devices,” he said. “The fact that we hold them in our hands is different to the way we use traditional computers and that actually can leak information to sensors in the device.”

So, if your PIN doesn’t get hacked through the wearing of an info-stealing helmet, your accelerometer is going to spill the beans. Here’s how the accelerometer works, explained quite well in four minutes time.

Why You Need a Tin Foil Hat

According to Wired:

A team of security researchers from Oxford, UC Berkeley, and the University of Geneva say that they were able to deduce digits of PIN numbers, birth months, areas of residence and other personal information by presenting 30 headset-wearing subjects with images of ATM machines, debit cards, maps, people, and random numbers in a series of experiments. The paper, titled “On the Feasibility of Side-Channel Attacks with Brain Computer Interfaces,” represents the first major attempt to uncover potential security risks in the use of the headsets.

Do you think Apple will make a deal to include the better, smaller version of this in the iPhone of, let’s say, 2020? For sci-fi writers this gives their notorious kill switch a whole new meaning.

Death by Vacuum

For sci-fi writers, courtesy of Gizmodo, here’s how your characters should die when booted out of an airlock. If you were going to write it honestly,

You only get fifteen seconds, because that is roughly how long it takes deoxygenated blood to circulate from your lungs to your brain. See, when you’re placed in a vacuum, the gas exchange process works in reverse—your lungs actually pull oxygen out of the body and dump it back into the lungs where it’s exhaled, which only serves to hasten the onset of hypoxia.

In addition to your body actively expelling the one thing it needs most, various other maladies begin to onset at the ten second mark. Exposed skin begins to burn (sunburn, not catch on fire), and your dermal tissues begin to swell due to water in your muscles spontaneously evaporating, causing minor bruising. Moisture in the nose, eyes, and mouth evaporates, causing localized frostbite. The onset of hypoxia has its own set of issues, including loss of vision (and wits), followed by convulsions, loss of consciousness, and cyanosis (when your skin turns blue). At this point, you’re not “dead” dead, just “mostly” dead—your brain is still functional and your heart is still going. You can still be revived, surprisingly with minimal permanent injury, if you are immediately returned to an atmosphere. However, this savior window only lasts 90 seconds. After that, your blood pressure drops low enough that it does begin to boil, which damages your heart and nixes any chance of resuscitation.

So now you know.