We all know that a phone uses more power the further away it is from a cell tower as it tries to connect. So, an Android phone can be tracked by studying their power use over time, without using their GPS or wi-fi/data usage. Extra power is used by other activities which could be factored out with algorithms, the researchers found. They created an app designed to collect data about power consumption.

“The malicious app has neither permission to access the GPS nor other location providers (eg cellular or wi-fi network),” the team – Yan Michalevsky, Dan Boneh and Aaron Schulman, from the computer science department at Stanford University, along with Gabi Nakibly, from Rafael Ltd – wrote in their paper.

Activity such as taking voice calls, activating maps or using social media all drain the battery but this can be discounted due to “machine learning”, the report says. The tests were carried out on phones using the 3G network but did not measure signal strength as that data is protected by the device.

“Therefore a sufficiently long power measurement (several minutes) enables the learning algorithm to ‘see’ through the noise. I think people sometimes forget that smartphones are stuffed full of sensors from gyroscopes and GPS to the more obvious microphones and cameras. This latest work shows that even that basic characteristics (power consumption) has the potential to invade privacy if monitored in the right way,” said cyber-security expert Prof Alan Woodward, from Surrey University.

Nowadays, more and more mobile phones do not allow battery to be removed, which can be considered a big minus, being possible to detect the location or unmute the microphone without the user knowing, making it easy to be hacked.


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