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Sep 12, 2015 03:40 PM EDT

Smartwatches Are Vulnerable To Hacking Too

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The marriage of  jewelry and gadgetry, two things many people take interest in, makes smartwatches the latest rage, but like all computer devices, these products are vulnerable to hackers.

According to FitnHit, this can happen while using a laptop keyboard or smarphone while wearing a smartwatch.

Using a homegrown app on a Samsung Gear Live smart watch, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were able to guess what a user was typing through data "leaks" produced by the motion sensors on smartwatches, The Economic Times reported.

The project, called Motion Leaks through Smartwatch Sensors, or MoLe, has privacy implications, as an app that is camouflaged as a pedometer, for example, could gather data from emails, search queries and other confidential documents.

"Sensor data from wearable devices will clearly be a double-edged sword," Romit Roy Choudhury, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois, said in a statement. "While the device's contact to the human body will offer invaluable insights into human health and context, it will also make way for deeper violation into human privacy. The core challenge is in characterizing what can or cannot be inferred from sensor data and the MoLe project is one example along this direction."

The app uses an accelerometer and gyroscope to track the micro-motion of keystrokes as a wearer types on a keyboard. After collecting the sensor data, researchers ran it through a "Keystroke Detection" module, which analyzed the timing of each keystroke and the net 2D displacement of the watch. For example, the left wrist moves farther to type a "T" than an "F."

While Illinois researchers developed MoLe, it is conceivable that hackers could build a similar app and deploy it to iTunes and other libraries.

"There are a lot of good things that smart watches can bring to our lives, but there could be bad things," researcher He Wang said. "So if you think from that perspective--if there are any 'bad' things we could do--we can help other people protect their privacy, or at least make them realize there's a potential problem."

A possible solution to these motion leaks would be to lower the sample rate of the sensors in the watch, Wang suggested.

While a Samsung watch was used in this project, the researchers believe that any wearable device that uses motion sensors--from the Apple Watch to Fitbit--could be vulnerable as well.

The findings were presented this week at the MobiCom 2015 conference in Paris.

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