Sensor-packed smartphones to secure your device

Grow with Us

An Indian-origin scientist and his team are adapting accelerometers, Global Positioning System (GPS) chips, gyroscopes and other sensors to make smartphones that can read a user’s mood, eliminate passwords, protect financial transactions and more.

The team led by Nitesh Saxena at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are working on innovations that could be coming soon on your favourite device.

Saxena, director of the “SPIES lab” at the university, is pulling together data from accelerometers, gyroscopes and proximity sensors to chart the characteristic gestures a user makes when answering a call or snapping a selfie.

Once his software learns your moves, it could unlock your phone automatically — or freeze when it detects that it is in the wrong hands.


“A system that taps into user interactions with multiple connected devices such as Google Glass or the new Apple Watch, would be even more secure,” said Saxena.

Newer phones can measure temperature, humidity — even barometric pressure. “A combination of these readings could offer a secure way to log in to your computer and make passwords obsolete,” Saxena added.

“Zero-interaction” authentication systems operate much like the keyless entry and starting systems on some cars — they rely on Bluetooth or other signals from a smartphone to grant a user access.

Saxena’s team has also found that combining readings from multiple sensors, including GPS, audio, temperature and altitude, can thwart relay attacks.

They have developed an Android-based app called BlueProximity++ that uses these readings to instantly – and securely – unlock laptops and other devices as soon as the user’s phone gets within range.

To protect your payments, Saxena’s team has developed a countermeasure to verify that the payment request is actually coming from a user in the same location as the reader.

Their system uses signals from a combination of sensors, including lists of nearby WiFi hotspots and their signal strengths, and short audio snippets captured by the phone’s microphone.

In the near-field communications (NFC) technology, reader compares notes with the phone — if the signals match, the payment is authorised, the university said in a press release.