An Android phone with a pattern lock on the screen.

Are you using the pattern lock to protect your phone?

Android users are already familiar with the pattern lock. For those who aren’t, the pattern lock is an alternative to a password. In order to access a phone or tablet, users draw a pattern on the screen and the device is unlocked. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s intuitive. But, is it safe? Security experts from several universities prove that anyone can crack the pattern in just five attempts.

The 5 Attempt Barrier

With a pattern lock, users draw a pattern on a grid of dots. By connecting one dot to the next, in the right order, they will unlock their device. Like most security methods for phones or computers, there are a certain number of attempts to input the code. For Android phones, it’s five attempts and then the device locks for a certain period of time.

Hacking the Pattern Lock

Security experts at the Lancaster University, Northwest University in China, and the University of Bath proved that new technology allows hackers to successfully infiltrate a user’s device in under 5 attempts. By using video and computer vision algorithm software, they were able to record and track the fingertip movements of an android user relative to their device’s position.

The algorithm was able to quickly generate several possible patterns. At least 95% of the time, the researchers were able to unlock the phone within those 5 attempts. They even note that more complicated patterns were easier for the algorithm to figure out.

Obviously, this is a problem. Around 40% of Android users use the pattern lock as their form of security. Android phone dominate the mobile market, making up 86% of smartphones owned by mobile users. If this algorithm is used by hackers, then the privacy these mobile users are at risk.

In the end, the researchers make several suggestions. For users, they suggest covering their phone when drawing their pattern. For phone manufacturers, they suggest adding extra security measures to the pattern lock system by way of more user input or blocking the phone’s screen from cameras.