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Your Android Phone's Pattern Lock Is Easy to Guess

by on January 26, 2017
in Money Savers, News, Phones and Mobile, Cell Phones, Blog, Privacy :: 14 comments

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Android's pattern lock, which lets you unlock your phone by swiping a specific pattern across the screen, may seem more secure than a password, but that's not always the case. While Android's pattern lock has a staggering 389,112 possible patterns — compared to 10,000 possible 4-digit pin codes — our tendency to go with simple, easy to remember patterns can make them easy to guess. The average number of nodes used in a pattern is five, meaning most pattern lock users are only picking their pattern from 7,152 possible combinations. (Dropping down to four nodes brings the number of options down to 1,624, which makes the simple pin code look positively high tech.)

A study in 2015 suggested that 44 percent of lock patterns start in the upper left (and 77 percent start in one of the corners), and most moved left to right and up to down, just like we'd read a book. The end result? Our pattern lock patterns are pretty predictable.

A new attack makes use of that predictability: there's now an algorithm that can guess 95% of pattern locks within five attempts. This bit of code analyzes video of people using pattern lock to unlock their phones, taken from about 8 feet away with a smartphone camera (or over 29 feet away using a high-quality SLR or DSLR camera). Even without being able to see the screen, the algorithm can watch your hand movements and predict your pattern.

You may think a more complicated pattern could throw off anyone trying to guess, but patterns that use more lines between nodes are actually easier for the algorithm to guess because they narrow down the possible patterns. The algorithm cracked 87.5 percent of complex patterns on the very first attempt — compared to only 60 percent of simple patterns.

The risk is that potential thieves may be able to easily snag your pattern lock code before pickpocketing your phone and helping themselves to all of your data. Because the algorithm can work from video taken on a smartphone camera 8 feet away, someone could pick it up discretely before picking up your phone.

Fortunately, pattern lock's vulnerabilities are easy to overcome: use your fingerprint instead. Android 6.0 Marshmallow added fingerprint authentication support in late 2015, and many Android phones have the hardware to support it. If yours doesn't support fingerprint authentication, however, go for a password or pin. Just be sure to make it a strong password, because "123456" is easier to guess than your Z-shaped pattern lock.

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Discussion loading

Find out how to reset without password

From JOHN STEVEN COLLETT on April 19, 2018 :: 12:41 am

I’m just wondering if you can reset iPhone by using the volume and power button I have a weird phone.

Reply

Restart or reset?

From Josh Kirschner on April 19, 2018 :: 10:50 am

You can restart your iPhone with the buttons, but not reset. Which are you looking to do?

Reply

Need help with removing a pattern lock from an LG K30, can you help me? Sorry I picked you, the issu

From Christopher J Hovey on April 09, 2021 :: 4:41 am

I can soft reset the phone to the screen for the settings as far as do I want to delete all settings however the buttons for volume up and down aren’t working so I can select yes what do I do?

Reply

I don't have an answer for you

From Josh Kirschner on April 09, 2021 :: 9:39 am

If you followed the correct steps on your LG K30 to get to the factory reset screen where you’re given the choice of deleting all data “Yes” or “No”, then the volume buttons should work. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find another example of the issue where anyone has provided a solution. The only advice I can give is to try again and try both volume buttons to see if one of them will work.

Pattern lock

From Jason on October 14, 2019 :: 8:54 pm

My wife set a pattern lock on her phone and cant remember it is there anyway to reset the phone being as we cant get into phone so we can change patter

Reply

Yes, there is

From Josh Kirschner on October 21, 2019 :: 5:00 pm

Yes, I wrote an article specifically about that. Here’s how to reset your phone if you forget your password.

Reply

Hi my husband Lock's his phone I thing he might be hiding something

From Melissaplachy on August 20, 2020 :: 6:35 am

How can I find out of he is hiding something from me

Reply

How he open lock

From Khwahish on December 02, 2020 :: 1:12 am

When he open lock then you see that how he moving his fingers to open lock

Reply

It will be good if

From peter on September 28, 2020 :: 3:26 am

It will be good if there is a additional layer of security. Like, if you enter the pattern wrong three times, then you have to enter a password to unlock the phone.

Reply

Galaxy Tab A

From Ravena Singh on November 16, 2020 :: 3:53 pm

So we don’t know the password and we can’t access the tablet. Is there any possible way to figure out the password or unlock the tablet? We don’t want to lose all of our data and pictures. So please, if there is any way please let me know.

Reply

No way to unlock without password

From Josh Kirschner on November 16, 2020 :: 4:56 pm

For obvious security reasons, there is no way to unlock the tablet without the password. So if you can’t remember it, your only option is to reset the device. Follow these steps to resetting your Android device if you don’t know the password.

Reply

unlock without password

From Susan Guerrero Light on February 10, 2021 :: 3:10 pm

If you have a Google account and your particular device is synced to your Google account then you can get a code sent to another device that you have access to. Even if they device is offline, you can access a code, it will allow you to unlock the locked device.

Reply

Dropping down to four nodes

From Kashif on May 06, 2021 :: 12:20 am

Dropping down to four nodes brings the number of options down to 1,624, which makes the simple pin code look positively high tech.)?
Plz help details how 4 nodes give 1624 ways lock?

Reply

Here's more info

From Josh Kirschner on May 11, 2021 :: 6:03 pm

The reason there are so many fewer options with four nodes vs four digits is that with nodes each nodes must be adjacent to the prior one. For example, If I start at “1’ in the top left, my next choices are only 2, 4 or 5. In addition, I can’t use the same node twice in a row, so 2,2,2,2 is not an option.

Reply

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