That person who's waiting behind you while you're using an ATM, or who's nearby when you're conducting online banking on your smartphone … are they peeking at the keypad as you enter your PIN? Well, even if they are, a new technology developed at New York University could thwart them – it displays the number keys in a different arrangement, depending on the distance from which it's being viewed.
Known as IllusionPIN, the system was created by a team led by Prof. Nasir Memon.
According to the university, "The underlying technology blends one image of a keyboard configuration with high spatial frequency and a second, completely different, keyboard configuration with low spatial frequency."
In practical terms, this means that the intended user – the person located closest to the screen – will see on an onscreen keypad with the number keys displayed in a certain configuration. Someone viewing that same screen from at least three feet away (0.9 m), meanwhile, will see a different configuration of number keys.
For added security, the "correct" configuration (the one that's visible to the intended user) changes with every login attempt. This means that they have to hunt down the locations of the right numbers every time, so simply memorizing the locations of the keys that they hit won't do PIN-thieves any good.
In a test of the system, "shoulder-surfing" volunteers tried stealing PINs from 21 participants using smartphones, from a variety of distances. When IllusionPIN wasn't being used, they were successful every time. When it was used, however, they were unsuccessful in all 84 attempts.
The university is now working on commercializing the technology, which is described in a paper that was recently published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics & Security.
You can see the illusion for yourself, via the link below.