Security Sidebar: Please Remove Your Google Glass

Wearable technology has been around for years.  And, let's be honest; we love this stuff.  After all, it's not good enough to simply have need to be able to wear it!  Google Glass is a recent example of said, wearable technology.  Glass is a head-mounted computer that looks like eyeglasses with a small optical display on the right lens (check out the picture below).  Google introduced this technology to developers in early 2013 and then to the general public in April 2014.  Users who wear this device can access the Internet via natural language voice commands.  You can also interact with the device via a touchpad where you can swipe through various timeline interfaces like current events, weather, phone call history, photos, etc.  The device also has an integrated camera that can take pictures and record 720p HD video.  All this can be yours for a cool $1,500 (add a couple hundred more if you need prescription lenses). 

Google Glass is great and all, but it's also causing a bit of a security and privacy fuss among certain groups.  Movie theaters in the United Kingdom have banned the devices completely.  And it's not just the UK riding the "ban Google Glass" wagon.  One moviegoer in Columbus, Ohio recently met the working end of the Department of Homeland Security when he wore his Google Glass (fitted with his prescription lenses) to a theater.  In both cases, the theater owners were concerned about Glass owners using their wearable devices to record the movies.  It makes sense, but the truth is that smartphone owners could do the same thing if they wanted.  Also, the Google Glass battery will only last about an hour when video recording. 

While Google Glass certainly provides interesting video capabilities, it also allows users to take still pictures of something (or someone).  One, longer-than-normal wink is all it takes to snap a picture.  The romance possibilities alone are worth the $1,500 price tag.  Just think, you could walk up to that special someone and give them an awkward wink while taking their picture at the same time!  You can even use an app like NameTag to take said picture and instantly scan that person against photos from social media, dating sites, and registered sex offender lists.  Actually walk up to a person and start a conversation without the use of cutting-edge stalker technology, you say?  That's crazy talk. 

Apparently movie patrons and freaky stalker people are not the only ones interested in the Google Glass.  Virgin Airlines is testing Google Glass to provide better (and more personal) customer service.  Imagine walking up to the airline desk where the agent greets you by name, offers you your favorite beverage, and asks if you enjoyed the birthday party you attended last weekend (after all, you posted all that stuff on Facebook).  Sometimes there's a fine line between really cool and really creepy.

Researchers (good and bad, I'm sure) are also interested in exploring the security holes found in Google Glass.  One such group created spyware for Glass that takes pictures every 10 seconds without the user knowing it and uploads the pictures to a remote server.  Totally not a problem at all...unless you're into personal privacy and stuff like that.  Another group of researchers developed software that helps steal passwords from other users' mobile devices by using the video capability.  The software uses shadows from fingertips typing on a tablet or smartphone and converts the touch points into the actual keys being touched.  This approach is not much different than simply watching someone type their passcode, but sometimes it's hard to catch all the numbers/letters with the naked eye if the user types a passcode very quickly.  This software will catch the passcode much easier as long as the victim's fingertips are in view of the Glass camera.  As interesting as this software seems, Google provided a great response by reminding everyone that the screen lights up when it's video recording something: "The fact that Glass is worn above the eyes and the screen lights up whenever it's activated clearly signals it's in use and makes it a fairly lousy surveillance device."  Touché

Google Glass certainly has its security flaws, but can it actually improve security in some cases?  One pretty cool app increases user security during an ATM transaction.  As the user approaches an ATM, Glass displays a one-time PIN to be used for that transaction.  The Glass user is the only one who can see the PIN, and even if someone were to steal the PIN as it's used, they couldn't use it again because it changes each time.

All in all, Google Glass is really cool technology that I'm sure will only get better and more secure with time.  In the meantime, if you're standing in line at Starbucks accessing your personal information online, you might want to take a quick peek and see if a pair of Google Glass eyes are staring at you (or your fingertips).  And, for the love of etiquette, please remove your Google Glass when attempting to start a conversation with that special someone.


Published Jul 15, 2014
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