Mobile Phone Location can be Tracked by Battery Usage

Mobile Phone Location can be Tracked by Battery Usage

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Stanford researchers find method to locate a mobile phone by just looking at the battery power consumption.

Tracking a mobile phone is easier than we thought. A spy app does not have to have access to GPS or Wi-fi location. These sources require a user permission. Researchers from Stanford found a way to locate a smartphone by just looking at the battery power consumption data.

The scientists demonstrate that by reading the device’s aggregate power consumption over a period of a couple minutes an app can find out the user’s location. Aggregate phone power consumption data is extremely noisy due to the multitude of components and applications simultaneously consuming power, but a machine learning algorithm can filter that out.

The key to this location method is the fact that power consumption varies with the distance to a cell tower and the obstacles in between. To actually find out the location the attacker needs to have the power usage profile of the area the target smartphone is moving in.

There are 179 apps in the Google Play store that have access to voltage and current data of power use. It is unlikely that one of the apps is using the data for location. It is a viable scenario the researchers point out. We need strict rules for apps on the information they can access on a smartphones.

The paper “PowerSpy: Location Tracking using Mobile Device Power Analysis” was published by Yan Michalevsky, Dan Boneh and Aaron Schulman from Computer Science Department Stanford University and Gabi Nakibly from the National Research and Simulation Center Rafael Ltd. Read the paper here (pdf). Via BBC.


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