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Research shows smartphone sensors leave trackable fingerprints

News release, ECE Illinois:

  • “Research by Associate Professor Romit Roy Choudhury and graduate students Sanorita Dey and Nirupam Roy have demonstrated that the accelerometers used in mobile devices posses unique, trackable fingerprints.
  • This suggests that even when a smartphone application doesn’t ask for geospatial information (“…would like to use your current location”), there are other surreptitious means of extracting that information.
  • These fingerprints stem from subtle idiosyncrasies in device manufacturing and are reflected in the unprotected data shared with numerous applications.
Fingerprints — those swirling residues left on keyboards and doorknobs — are mostly invisible. They can affirm your onetime presence, but they cannot be used to track your day-to-day activities. They cannot tell someone in real time that after exercising at the gym, you went to office in a bus and played video games during lunch. But what if our hand-held electronics are leaving real-time fingerprints instead? Fingerprints that are so intrinsic to the device that, like our own, they cannot be removed? Research by Associate Professor Romit Roy Choudhury and graduate students Sanorita Dey and Nirupam Roy has demonstrated that these fingerprints exist within smartphone sensors, mainly because of imperfections during the hardware manufacturing process.”

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