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Smudge Attack! How Dirty Phone Screens Help Thieves

Your dirty touchscreen not only looks messy, it could help a thief break into your phone, tablet or touchscreen computer, or even your bank account.

A recent study looks at the dangers posed by “smudge attacks.” A smudge attack is when crooks follow the pattern of fingerprints left behind on a touchscreen to figure out your passwords or other sensitive information.

 Scientists found what you probably already know: smudges last a long time and are very difficult to get off a screen. It doesn’t matter how clean your hands might be, the natural oils in your fingers will leave smudges.

A thief wouldn’t necessarily have to get his or her hands on your device. Crooks could simply take a photograph of your smudged screen and use a readily available computer program to run the various patterns. The researchers were able to determine passwords from screen smudges up to 68% of the time they tried deciphering them from photos of the screens.

If you use your phone or tablet for mobile banking, thieves could gain access your to bank account. They could also be able to decipher e-mail passwords or credit card numbers. 


The researchers advise people to think very carefully about the information they enter into their phones. The simplest solution may be to just use a stylus of some type instead of your finger. They’re inexpensive, readily available and could end up saving you a lot of money and trouble.

~ Cynthia