Could your body heat give away your ATM pin?

Press lightly!

You wait until there’s no one behind you. You look over your shoulder. You block the view of the key pad with your other hand. Unfortunately, it might not be enough as researchers have revealed yet another way thieves can steal your ATM pin.

The good news is that they’d have to be super techie, speedy thieves to ever pull it off. It requires taking a thermal imaging photo of the key pad within about 45 seconds of you touching it.

Researchers at the University of California at San Diego found that residual heat from your fingertips is left behind after you punch in your pin number. Then thieves can use an infrared camera to “pin harvest” and see exactly which keys you pressed.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start poking the key pad with a random object you happen to be carrying at that moment (pen, car keys, popsicle stick). Researchers found that how hard you press the keys and your body temperature can both affect the results. Additionally, only plastic key pads hold body heat long enough to determine which keys were pressed. Researchers had about an 80 percent success rate if they got to the key pad within 10 seconds. It dropped to about 60 percent if they waited longer than 45 seconds.

The researchers say thermal imaging isn’t exactly all the rage among the thief community… yet. We guess we’ll just hope that these widely published findings don’t give them any ideas…


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