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Your Android Phone's Pattern Lock Is Easy to Guess

by Elizabeth Harper on January 26, 2017

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.

[Image credit: Techlicious]


Topics

Money Savers, News, Phones and Mobile, Cell Phones, Blog, Privacy


Discussion loading

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From JOHN STEVEN COLLETT on April 18, 2018 :: 11:41 pm


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

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From Josh Kirschner on April 19, 2018 :: 9:50 am


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

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From Christopher J Hovey on April 09, 2021 :: 3:41 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?

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From Josh Kirschner on April 09, 2021 :: 8:39 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.

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From Md Ismail on November 20, 2022 :: 9:47 pm


Actually i forgot my SAFE FOLDER Pattern in Realme C21Y model.
In Safe Folder file I have a lot of photos and videos it’s really important for me because my fiance
is no more but i still living i have so much memory of her.

So please help me how to recover pattern in my Safe Folder file
Realme store was helpless.

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From Jason on October 14, 2019 :: 7:54 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

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From Josh Kirschner on October 21, 2019 :: 4:00 pm


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

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From Yaazhini on January 15, 2022 :: 11:21 pm


Dear brother,
    Hope you are doing good. I had forgotten both my Privacy pattern and Indentity verification security questions. I tried as much as I can, but u can’t get it out expect erasing my datas. Is there any other way to recover my privacy pattern other than erasing my datas? Please help and guide me bro 😭

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From Josh Kirschner on January 18, 2022 :: 5:55 pm


Unfortunately, if you forget your lock code, you have to reset the device. Going forward, be sure to set up an alternative access method, such as fingerprint, that you know will always work for you.

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From Melissaplachy on August 20, 2020 :: 5:35 am


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

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


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

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From peter on September 28, 2020 :: 2:26 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.

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From Ravena Singh on November 16, 2020 :: 2:53 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.

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From Josh Kirschner on November 16, 2020 :: 3:56 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.

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From Susan Guerrero Light on February 10, 2021 :: 2:10 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.

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From Kashif on May 05, 2021 :: 11:20 pm


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?

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From Josh Kirschner on May 11, 2021 :: 5:03 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.

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From Rachel on January 30, 2022 :: 5:06 am


My son committed suicide on the 30th November the police have finally handed his phone back which they managed to get into but there’s a pattern lock on it. Is there anyway to get on it without all his precious photos and videos and WhatsApp messages being deleted. It’s a samsung galaxy 20 fe

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From Josh Kirschner on January 30, 2022 :: 11:43 am


Hi Rachel,

I’m very sorry to hear about your son. Unfortunately, because Android 11/12 has very strong device encryption, there is no way to get access to that data without knowing the password. There are some very expensive software applications available only to law enforcement and government agencies that “may” be able to access this data, though even this is uncertain for the latest Android versions. Wish I could be of more help.

Best,
Josh

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From Sharon Bernard on March 03, 2024 :: 12:25 am


There are apps that lets you remove the pattern lock without rebooting the phone so you don’t have to lose the data.  You have to install the app on the computer that worked with the phone.  Like droidkit or lockwiper.  then you have to connect the phone to the computer, and there’s some instructions there on how to do it.  Or you might be able to take it to a computer/phone repair place and they can get stuff off.  Or if it has a sim card, you might be able to just put that into a different phone and get the stuff that way.

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From CCSC EMEA 2023 on May 17, 2023 :: 3:55 am


Unlock patters on phones are usually restricted inn such a way that passing the same dot twice is not allowed. Therefore the patterns are severely restricted.
To my opinion, the biggest reason for the simple patterns to be chosen.

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