WHY ARE 95% OF PEOPLE WHO LIVE TO 110 WOMEN? YOU’RE AS OLD AS YOUR STEM CELLS


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Human supercentenarians share at least one thing in common–over 95 percent are women. Scientists have long observed differences between the sexes when it comes to aging, but there is no clear explanation for why females live longer. In a discussion of what we know about stem cell behavior and sex, Stanford University researchers Ben Dulken and Anne Brunet argue that it’s time to look at differences in regenerative decline between men and women. This line of research could open up new explanations for how the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone, or other factors, modify lifespan.

It’s known that estrogen has direct effects on stem cell populations in female mice, from increasing the number of blood stem cells (which is very helpful during pregnancy) to enhancing the regenerative capacity of brain stem cells at the height of estrus. Whether these changes have a direct impact on lifespan is what’s yet to be explored. Recent studies have already found that estrogen supplements increase the lifespan of male mice, and that human eunuchs live about 14 years longer than non-castrated males.

More work is also needed to understand how genetics impacts stem cell aging between the sexes. Scientists have seen that knocking out different genes in mice can add longevity benefits to one sex but not the other, and that males in twin studies have shorter telomeres–a sign of shorter cellular lifespan–compared to females.

“It is likely that sex plays a role in defining both lifespan and healthspan, and the effects of sex may not be identical for these two variables,” the authors write. “As the search continues for ways to ameliorate the aging process and maintain the regenerative capacity of stem cells, let us not forget one of the most effective aging modifiers: sex.”

6 Things That Could Be Hurting Your Sperm


6 Things That Could Be Hurting Your Sperm

Your sperm may be suffering without you realizing it. 

Men, listen up: Your everyday behaviors could have an impact on your fertility.

Recent research has shown that men’s sperm count, quality, mobility, and viability — all of which could have an impact on baby-making — could be affected by factors such as alcohol consumption and stress (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg). Read on to find other surprising things that could be hurting men’s sperm:

Another health issue

Poor semen quality is linked with health conditions that may not be so obviously linked with sexual health, according to recent research from the Stanford University School of Medicine. In the study of 9,387 men with fertility problems, researchers found that 44 percent of them had an additional health problem aside from the fertility problems.

“To the best of my knowledge, there’s never been a study showing this association before,” study researcher Michael Eisenberg, MD, an assistant professor of urology and director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford University, said in a statement. “There are a lot of men who have hypertension, so understanding that correlation is of huge interest to us.”

The researchers also found an association between defects in the semen and an increased risk of having a skin disease or endocrine disorder. “As we treat men’s infertility, we should also assess their overall health,” Eisenberg adds in the statement. “That visit to a fertility clinic represents a big opportunity to improve their treatment for other conditions, which we now suspect could actually help resolve the infertility they came in for in the first place.”

Aluminum

According to research published in in the journalReproductive Toxicology, exposure to aluminum may reduce sperm count, negatively affecting a man’s fertility. And since our exposure to aluminum has increased over the years, the “significant contamination of male semen by aluminum must implicate aluminum as a potential contributor to these changes in reproductive fertility,” Christopher Exley, lead study author and a professor of bioinorganic chemistry at Keele University in the U.K., said in a statement.

The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry details the various ways we inhale, ingest, or absorb aluminum, which include being in nature (it’s found in soil, water, and air), as well as through food (aluminum compounds may be added in the processing of baked goods, such as flour, baking powder, and coloring agents) and consumer products (including some cosmetics and medicines).

While avoiding all sources of aluminum is next to impossible, there are ways to decrease exposure. This includes avoiding drinking out of soda cans, using cast-iron, stainless steel, or oven-safe glassware instead of aluminum-based cookware, and avoiding using antiperspirants or deodorants that include aluminum.

How to Cool Buildings Without Electricity? Beam Heat into Space


A new superthin material can cool buildings without requiring electricity, by beaming heat directly into outer space, researchers say.

In addition to cooling areas that don’t have access to electrical power, the material could help reduce demand for electricity, since air conditioning accounts for nearly 15 percent of the electricity consumed by buildings in the United States.

Cooling Buildings Without Electricity

The heart of the new cooler is a multilayered material measuring just 1.8 microns thick, which is thinner than the thinnest sheet of aluminum foil. In comparison, the average human hair is about 100 microns wide. [Top 10 Craziest Environmental Ideas]
This material is made of seven layers of silicon dioxide and hafnium dioxide on top of a thin layer of silver. The way each layer varies in thickness makes the material bend visible and invisible forms of light in ways that grant it cooling properties.

Invisible light in the form of infrared radiation is one key way all objects shed heat. “If you use an infrared camera, you can see we all glow in infrared light,” said study co-author Shanhui Fan, an electrical engineer at Stanford University in California.

One way this material helps keep things cool is by serving as a highly effective mirror. By reflecting 97 percent of sunlight away, it helps keep anything it covers from heating up.

In addition, when this material does absorb heat, its composition and structure ensure that it only emits very specific wavelengths of infrared radiation, ones that air does not absorb, the researchers said. Instead, this infrared radiation is free to leave the atmosphere and head out into space.

“The coldness of the universe is a vast resource that we can benefit from,” Fan told Live Science.

The scientists tested a prototype of their cooler on a clear winter day in Stanford, California, and found it could cool to nearly 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) cooler than the surrounding air, even in the sunlight.

“This is very novel and an extraordinarily simple idea,” Eli Yablonovitch, a photonics crystal expert at the University of California, Berkeley, who did not take part in this research, said in a statement.

The researchers suggested that their material’s cost and performance compare favorably to those of other rooftop air-conditioning systems, such as those driven by electricity derived from solar cells. The new device could also work alongside these other technologies, the researchers said.

However, the scientists cautioned that their prototype measures only about 8 inches (20 centimeters) across, or about the size of a personal pizza. “We are now scaling production up to make larger samples,” Fan said. “To cool buildings, you really need to cover large areas.”

Scientists develop a water splitter that runs on an ordinary AAA battery


In 2015, American consumers will finally be able to purchase fuel cell cars from Toyota and other manufacturers. Although touted as zero-emissions vehicles, most of the cars will run on hydrogen made from natural gas, a fossil fuel that contributes to global warming.
Stanford scientists develop a water splitter that runs on an ordinary AAA battery

Now scientists at Stanford University have developed a low-cost, emissions-free device that uses an ordinary AAA battery to produce by water electrolysis. The battery sends an electric current through two electrodes that split liquid water into hydrogen and oxygen gas. Unlike other water splitters that use precious-metal catalysts, the electrodes in the Stanford device are made of inexpensive and abundant nickel and iron.

“Using nickel and iron, which are cheap materials, we were able to make the electrocatalysts active enough to split water at room temperature with a single 1.5-volt battery,” said Hongjie Dai, a professor of chemistry at Stanford. “This is the first time anyone has used non-precious metal catalysts to split water at a voltage that low. It’s quite remarkable, because normally you need expensive metals, like platinum or iridium, to achieve that voltage.”

In addition to producing hydrogen, the novel water splitter could be used to make chlorine gas and sodium hydroxide, another important industrial chemical, according to Dai. He and his colleagues describe the new device in a study published in the Aug. 22 issue of the journal Nature Communications.

The promise of hydrogen

Automakers have long considered the hydrogen a promising alternative to the gasoline engine. Fuel cell technology is essentially water splitting in reverse. A fuel cell combines stored with oxygen from the air to produce electricity, which powers the car. The only byproduct is water – unlike gasoline combustion, which emits, a greenhouse gas.

Stanford scientists develop a water splitter that runs on an ordinary AAA battery
Stanford graduate student Ming Gong (left) and Professor Hongjie Dai have developed a low-cost electrolytic device that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen at room temperature. The device is powered by an ordinary AAA battery. Credit: Mark …more

Earlier this year, Hyundai began leasing in Southern California. Toyota and Honda will begin selling fuel cell cars in 2015. Most of these vehicles will run on fuel manufactured at large industrial plants that produce hydrogen by combining very hot steam and , an energy-intensive process that releases carbon dioxide as a byproduct.

Splitting water to make hydrogen requires no fossil fuels and emits no greenhouse gases. But scientists have yet to develop an affordable, active water splitter with catalysts capable of working at industrial scales.

“It’s been a constant pursuit for decades to make low-cost electrocatalysts with high activity and long durability,” Dai said. “When we found out that a nickel-based catalyst is as effective as platinum, it came as a complete surprise.”

Saving energy and money

The discovery was made by Stanford graduate student Ming Gong, co-lead author of the study. “Ming discovered a nickel-metal/nickel-oxide structure that turns out to be more active than pure nickel metal or pure nickel oxide alone,” Dai said. “This novel structure favors hydrogen electrocatalysis, but we still don’t fully understand the science behind it.”

The nickel/nickel-oxide catalyst significantly lowers the voltage required to , which could eventually save hydrogen producers billions of dollars in electricity costs, according to Gong. His next goal is to improve the durability of the device.

“The electrodes are fairly stable, but they do slowly decay over time,” he said. “The current device would probably run for days, but weeks or months would be preferable. That goal is achievable based on my most recent results.”

The researchers also plan to develop a splitter than runs on electricity produced by solar energy.

“Hydrogen is an ideal fuel for powering vehicles, buildings and storing renewable energy on the grid,” said Dai. “We’re very glad that we were able to make a catalyst that’s very active and low cost. This shows that through nanoscale engineering of materials we can really make a difference in how we make fuels and consume energy.”

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-08-scientists-splitter-ordinary-aaa-battery.html#jCp

Earth is headed for its sixth mass extinction.


The rapid depletion of Earth’s biodiversity indicates that the planet is in the early stages of its sixth mass extinction of life since becoming habitable 3.5 billion years ago, according to a new study published in Science.

Human activity, including a doubling of its population in the past 35 years, has driven the decline of animal life on Earth, the researchers concluded.

AFP Photo / NASA

There has been a 25 percent average decline rate of remaining terrestrial vertebrates, and a 45 percent decline rate in the abundance of invertebrates. These losses will continue to have innumerable impacts on species that depend on the delicate balance of life on Earth for their own survival.

“We tend to think about extinction as loss of a species from the face of Earth, and that’s very important, but there’s a loss of critical ecosystem functioning in which animals play a central role that we need to pay attention to as well,” said Rodolfo Dirzo, lead author of the study and a biology professor at Stanford University.

“Ironically, we have long considered that defaunation is a cryptic phenomenon, but I think we will end up with a situation that is non-cryptic because of the increasingly obvious consequences to the planet and to human wellbeing.”

The “Anthropocene defaunation,” as some researchers have dubbed this era, is hitting large animals such as elephants, polar bears, and rhinoceroses the hardest, as these megafauna are the subject of some of the highest rates of decline on Earth. This trend matches previous mass die-offs of the Big Five extinction periods.

Megafauna usually have lower population growth rates that need larger habitat areas to maintain their populations, thus they are particularly affected by human growth and desire for their meat mass. Losses among these animals often mean dire impacts for other species that depend on them within an ecosystem.

Past studies have found that the loss of larger animals means a spike in rodents, as grass and shrubs proliferate and soil compaction decreases, all while the risk of predation also declines, Futurity.org notes. As rodent populations increase, so do the disease-transporting ectoparasites that come with them.

“Where human density is high, you get high rates of defaunation, high incidence of rodents, and thus high levels of pathogens, which increases the risks of disease transmission,” said Dirzo.

“Who would have thought that just defaunation would have all these dramatic consequences? But it can be a vicious circle.”

About 16 to 33 percent of all vertebrate species are considered threatened or endangered, the review found.

Invertebrate loss also has far-reaching ripple effects on other species. For example, the continued disappearance of vital honeybee populations across the globe will have bleak consequences for plant pollination, and thus on the world’s food production, as RT has previously reported.

Insects pollinate about 75 percent of the world’s food crops, according to Futurity.

Overall, of the world’s more than 71,000 species, 30 percent of them are threatened, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Based on this assessment – and without drastic economic and political measures to address the current die-off – the sixth mass extinction could be cemented by 2400 A.D., University of California, Berkeley geologist Anthony Barnosky told Harper’s magazine.

Solutions to the die-off are complicated, the study posits, as reducing rates of habitat change and overexploitation of lands must come through regional and situational strategies.

“Prevention of further declines will require us to better understand what species are winning and losing in the fight for survival and from studying the winners, apply what we learn to improve conservation projects,” said Ben Collen, a lecturer at the University College of London and a co-author of the study.“We also need to develop predictive tools for modelling the impact of changes to the ecosystem so we can prioritize conservation efforts, working with governments globally to create supportive policy to reverse the worrying trends we are seeing.”

Researchers from University of California, Santa Barbara; Universidade Estadual Paulista in Brazil; Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico; the Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in England; and University College London are coauthors of the new study.

‘Brain dead’ US girl faces deadline


Jahi McMath, ‘brain dead‘ US girl: Life support extended

Undated photo of Jahi McMath
It is unclear how Jahi McMath’s tonsillectomy to treat sleep apnoea went so awry

The family of a US teenager declared brain dead after a routine operation went wrong has won an extension to the court order keeping her alive.

The court order keeping her on life support in California had been due to expire on Monday evening.

Jahi McMath, 13, had a tonsillectomy this month to treat a sleep disorder but she began bleeding heavily after surgery and went into cardiac arrest.

Her family says there is still hope for recovery.

However, the Children’s Hospital & Research Center, which carried out the procedure, wants to turn off her ventilator.

On Monday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo ordered the hospital to maintain Jahi on a ventilator until 7 January.

Jahi’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, said she wept when she heard about the ruling.

She said the delay was an answer to a prayer and a sign that she was right to keep fighting.

“Who wants to know the date and the time their child would die?” she said. “I don’t care what anyone has to say about what I’m doing… I have to do what is right for me and for Jahi.”

Jahi’s family believes she is still alive but the hospital in Oakland, California, has argued in court papers that there is no medical treatment they can give to the teenager because she is “practically and legally” dead.

An independent paediatric neurologist from Stanford University supported that view.

“Start Quote

We believe a parent has the right to make decisions concerning the existence of their child”

Jahi McMath’s family statement

In an earlier ruling, a judge at Alameda County Superior Court agreed and issued an order allowing Children’s Hospital to remove Jahi from a breathing machine at 17:00 local time on Monday (01:00 GMT on Tuesday).

Hospital spokesman Sam Singer said they would comply with the judge’s new order.

The McMaths are hoping that a New York facility will care for their daughter. Two California care homes have already withdrawn offers to accept Jahi.

It is unclear how the girl’s operation on 9 December went so badly awry. She was having her tonsils removed to treat her apnoea, a condition that causes sleepers to experience irregular breathing.

Jahi was declared brain dead three days after surgery.

The family said in a statement at the weekend: “We have our strong religious convictions and set of beliefs and we believe that, in this country, a parent has the right to make decisions concerning the existence of their child: not a doctor… and definitely not a doctor who runs the facility that caused the brain death in the first place.”

Children’s Hospital says it is willing to work with the family to transfer Jahi to another facility, as long as it can legally do so.

Nailah Winkfield, mother of 13-year-old Jahi McMath, cries before a courtroom hearing regarding McMath in Oakland, California, 20 December 2013
Jahi’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, cries at a court hearing last week

“We need to be able to talk to the other facility to understand what it is they are capable of doing,” Cynthia Chiarappa, a hospital spokeswoman, said.

“This is not transferring an individual in a vegetative state, but a dead body.”

Jahi’s family has launched an online fundraising drive, which had collected more than $22,000 (£13,000) by Monday morning, to transfer their daughter to another facility.

The McMaths’ lawyer, Chris Dolan, said he was waiting to hear from a hospital in New York, where officials have been considering the case.

“The family is together, and today everybody is praying and being together,” Mr Dolan told the Associated Press news agency on Sunday.

Man flu is no myth say scientists, with ‘manly’ men more susceptible


Men with high levels of testosterone have a secret flaw – less effective immune systems, researchers have discovered

Man flu may not be a myth after all, as scientist have found that men with high levels of testosterone have a hidden flaw – weak immune systems.

The discovery could explain why men are more susceptible than women to a whole range of bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic infections, researchers said.

It may also be the reason why men’s immune systems respond less strongly to vaccinations against influenza, yellow fever, measles and hepatitis, along with many other infectious diseases.

Those who take testosterone supplements in the quest to gain muscle meanwhile, could be making themselves more susceptible to illness.

“This is the first study to show an explicit correlation between testosterone levels, gene expression and immune responsiveness in humans,” said US lead scientist Professor Mark Davis, from Stanford University.

“It could be food for thought to all the testosterone-supplement takers out there.”

The researchers studied how the immune systems of 34 men and 53 women were stimulated by the flu vaccine.

The jab generated a bigger boost in protective antibodies in women, with further analysis revealing activity that, in high testosterone men, was associated with a weakened antibody response. Men with low testosterone were not affected the same way.

Testosterone’s anti-inflammatory properties may explain why it can weaken the immune system, said scientists writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Prof Davies said the reason why testosterone weakens the immune system yet boosts muscle power and aggression, may be linked to the man’s evolutionary role.

Men are more likely than women to suffer injuries from competitive encounters, as well as their traditional roles of hunting, defence and potentially dangerous physical work, Prof Davies said. The dampening down the immune system makes male less susceptible to a potentially fatal over-reaction to infections, especially those from wounds.

“Ask yourself which sex is more likely to clash violently with, and do grievous bodily harm to, others of their own sex,” Prof Davis added.

‘Determination’ can be induced by electrical brain stimulation.


Applying an electric current to a particular part of the brain makes people feel a sense of determination, say researchers

The men were having a routine procedure to locate regions in their brains that caused epileptic seizures when they felt their heart rates rise, a sense of foreboding, and an overwhelming desire to persevere against a looming hardship.

The remarkable findings could help researchers develop treatments fordepression and other disorders where people are debilitated by a lack of motivation.

One patient said the feeling was like driving a car into a raging storm. When his brain was stimulated, he sensed a shaking in his chest and a surge in his pulse. In six trials, he felt the same sensations time and again.

Comparing the feelings to a frantic drive towards a storm, the patient said: “You’re only halfway there and you have no other way to turn around and go back, you have to keep going forward.”

When asked by doctors to elaborate on whether the feeling was good or bad, he said: “It was more of a positive thing, like push harder, push harder, push harder to try and get through this.”

A second patient had similar feelings when his brain was stimulated in the same region, called the anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC). He felt worried that something terrible was about to happen, but knew he had to fight and not give up, according to a case study in the journal Neuron.

Both men were having an exploratory procedure to find the focal point in their brains that caused them to suffer epileptic fits. In the procedure, doctors sink fine electrodes deep into different parts of the brain and stimulate them with tiny electrical currents until the patient senses the “aura” that precedes a seizure. Often, seizures can be treated by removing tissue from this part of the brain.

“In the very first patient this was something very unexpected, and we didn’t report it,” said Josef Parvizi at Stanford University in California. But then I was doing functional mapping on the second patient and he suddenly experienced a very similar thing.”

“Its extraordinary that two individuals with very different past experiences respond in a similar way to one or two seconds of very low intensity electricity delivered to the same area of their brain. These patients are normal individuals, they have their IQ, they have their jobs. We are not reporting these findings in sick brains,” Parvizi said.

The men were stimulated with between two and eight milliamps of electrical current, but in tests the doctors administered sham stimulation too. In the sham tests, they told the patients they were about to stimulate the brain, but had switched off the electical supply. In these cases, the men reported no changes to their feelings. The sensation was only induced in a small area of the brain, and vanished when doctors implanted electrodes just five millimetres away.

Parvizi said a crucial follow-up experiment will be to test whether stimulation of the brain region really makes people more determined, or simply creates the sensation of perseverance. If future studies replicate the findings, stimulation of the brain region – perhaps without the need for brain-penetrating electrodes – could be used to help people with severe depression.

The anterior midcingulate cortex seems to be important in helping us select responses and make decisions in light of the feedback we get. Brent Vogt, a neurobiologist at Boston University, said patients with chronic pain and obsessive-compulsive disorder have already been treated by destroying part of the aMCC. “Why not stimulate it? If this would enhance relieving depression, for example, let’s go,” he said.

Insomnia Cure Boosts Success of Depression Treatment.


reating persistent insomnia at the same time as depression could double the chances that the mood disorder will disappear, a new study shows.

Doctors have long reported a link between insomnia — the inability to sleep — and depression, but many thought that depression led to insomnia. Now, experts suspect sleep problems can sometimes precede depression.

If other ongoing studies confirm these results, it might lead to major changes in depression treatment, experts added. Such changes would represent the biggest advance in depression treatment since the antidepressant Prozac was introduced in 1987, The New York Times reported.

“The way this story is unfolding, I think we need to start augmenting standard depression treatment with therapy focused on insomnia,” Colleen Carney, lead author of the small study, told the Times.

The study was funded by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

The insomnia treatment relied on talk therapy, rather than sleep medication, for 66 patients.

Insomnia and depression are both common problems, and often interact, explained Dr. Steven Feinsilver, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. He was not involved in the study.

“Clearly, poor sleep can cause depression and depression can cause poor sleep,” he said.

Evidence does exist that for many people, symptoms of insomnia precede symptoms of depression by a few years, Feinsilver noted. “This could be taken to mean either that insomnia causes depression or that insomnia is the earliest symptom of depression,” he said.

This study may help untangle that relationship. It “suggests that specifically treating the insomnia with behavioral techniques can substantially improve the outcome of patients with depression,” Feinsilver added.

For the millions of people with depression, the findings offer a ray of hope.

“This relatively simple technique for treating insomnia could be tremendously helpful for those with this common psychiatric illness,” Feinsilver said.

More than 20 million Americans suffer from depression — disabling feelings of sadness and despair that don’t go away, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. More than half of those with depression also suffer from insomnia.

The research team, from Ryerson University in Toronto, found depression lifted significantly among patients whose insomnia was cured. The insomnia treatment consisted of four talk therapy sessions over eight weeks, according to the Times.

During the sessions, patients were given certain instructions: set a specific wake-up time and don’t veer from it; get out of bed when awake but don’t eat, read or watch TV; and refrain from taking any daytime naps.

Almost 90 percent of patients who responded to the insomnia therapy also saw their depression lift after taking an antidepressant pill or an inactive placebo for two months. That was about double the rate of those who could not shake their sleeplessness, the news report said.

Study participants had to have had a month of sleep loss that had an effect on their jobs, family life or other relationships.

A smaller pilot study conducted at Stanford University produced similar findings, the Times reported.

Carney was to present the latest research Saturday at a conference of the Association for Behavioral & Cognitive Therapies, in Nashville, Tenn., the newspaper reported.

Research presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Study shows side-channel phone risk via microphone and camera.


Researchers exploring smartphone security vulnerabilities are increasingly turning to information about smartphone sensors as pathways to security breach. Earlier this year, a Stanford University team warned that sensors such as accelerometers could identify a device and track it. In 2012, a paper titled “Practicality of Accelerometer Side Channels on Smartphones” by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania reported that by analyzing data gathered by accelerometers they were able to get a good idea of the PIN or pattern used to protect a phone. Now a study by two researchers at Cambridge University set out to show that a smartphone PIN can be identified via the smartphone camera and microphone. Smartphone rsearchers Ross Anderson, Professor of Security Engineering at the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge and Laurent Simon, also of the Computer Laboratory, demonstrated an attack that can reveal the PIN codes for sensitive apps, such as those for banking, by tapping into the microphone and camera.. They wrote about their finding in the paper, “PIN Skimmer: Inferring PINs Through the Camera and Microphone.” Their study was presented at a recent workshop on Security and Privacy in Smartphones and Mobile Devices (SPSM) in Berlin.

“In this paper,” they wrote, “we aim to raise awareness of side-channel attacks even when strong isolation protects sensitive applications. Previous works have studied the use of the phone accelerometer and gyroscope as side channel data to infer PINs. Here, we describe a new side-channel attack that makes use of the video and to infer PINs entered on a number-only soft key-board on a smartphone.”

Their attack was achieved through a program called PIN Skimmer. They found that codes entered on a number-only soft keypad could be identified. Their feat involves software that watches the smartphone user’s face by means of the camera and listens to clicks through the microphone as the victim types. The microphone can detect touch as a user enters the PIN, taking in the clicks made by the smartphone from the user pressing on the virtual number keys. The camera estimates the orientation of the phone as the user is doing this and correlates it to the position of the user-tapped digit.

Writing about their work in the security weblog “Light Blue Touchpaper,” Ross Anderson said, “We found that software on your can work out what PIN you’re entering by watching your face through the camera and listening for the clicks as you type. Previous researchers had shown how to work out PINs using the gyro and accelerometer; we found that the camera works about as well. We watch how your face appears to move as you jiggle your phone by typing.”

https://i1.wp.com/cdn.physorg.com/newman/gfx/news/2013/vcgnfxguyv.jpg

The paper reported these results: When selecting from a test set of 50 four-digit PINs, PIN Skimmer correctly infers more than 30 percent of PINs after two attempts, and more than 50 percent of PINs after five attempts on Android-powered phones. When selecting from a set of 200 eight-digit PINs, PIN Skimmer correctly infers about 45 percent of the PINs after five attempts and 60 percent after 10 attempts.

The authors reserved a special section in the paper where they presented possible countermeasures to mitigate side-channel attacks on PIN input. Blogged Anderson: “Meanwhile, if you’re developing payment apps, you’d better be aware that these risks exist.”