NSA Will Use Swipe Recognition To Identify You By Your Smartphone Typing
Fingerprints and heartbeat rhythms are known to be unique to an individual, but the NSA is now looking into identifying people by their smartphone typing rhythm as this may be unique too.
The National Security Agency has tested swipe recognition technology called Mandrake developed by Lockheed Martin to identify people based on the rhythm of their typing and the way they interact with a phone keyboard. The Senior fellow for Lockheed IT and Security Solutions John Mears has recently said that everyone has their own ‘electronic signature’ that can be identified by Lockheed’s recognition technology. This uses the swipe shape, typing time and acceleration of each user based on the strokes they make on a touch screen. This type of biometric identification system began its life in the Air Force and is also known as dynamic signature biometrics or handwriting-motion detection.
Mears went on to say that although signatures can be forged in two dimensions on paper, it becomes much more difficult in three or even four dimensions, where the third dimension is pressure and the fourth is time. Mandrake has been used by the NSA for ‘secure gesture authentication’ in smartphones.
Smartphone signature recognition technology has been designed by security experts to build on fingerprint technology and other systems that can identify individuals. The FBI has been increasingly interested in biometric ID systems that can identify people through means other than their fingerprint. This can range from their heartbeat to their retina or even tattoos and marks on their skin. Lockheed is the company behind a system used by the FBI which cost $1billion and recognises faces, fingerprints, retina scans, palm prints and tattoo images. The FBI has said that the Next Generation Identification system could in the future use voice recognition and ‘gait matching’ to further bolster the impressive use of biometric identification information that it can handle.
Biometric technology is not only being used by security agencies but also by technology companies who wish for it to feature more heavily in consumer products and applications. One example of this is the app recently launched app by USAA bank which uses voice and facial recognition to allow people to log into their bank accounts using biometric data captured by their phones. A life insurance company called from Asia called AIA has also been using an app that measures a user’s speed and acceleration of strokes with a stylus when using a tablet.
It hasn’t been expressly said how the NSA plans to use the technology but there are a number of ways it might be put into practice. Mears has said that Mandrake might help those in the emergency services to access command websites quickly such as if they are driving at speed or can’t touch a screen. In addition, those who work with radioactive material may use the system while wearing gloves when they can’t touch small screens.
Handwriting-motion identity verification has been in testing for almost 50 years. In 1978 results were published by the Air Force of a study that used handwriting verification to allow subjects into restricted facilities. In the study, which was conducted in a lab and at a weapons storage space at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire, participants were required to enter two forms of identification before being allowed access. They first entered a four digit pin number on a keyboard at an entry control point before physically writing their signature which was matched against a ‘pressure versus time’ history. Theautomatic handwriting verification system was acquired by the Air Force as part of an effort to increase the security of the Pentagon.
At the time the early systems were unable to be used in life outside a controlled environment, but with research ongoing for decades, it is interesting that handwriting technology is not in wider use today. It may be that we have only recently developed the touch screens needed to make it viable in everyday life as these can recognise swipes in several dimensions. It remains to be seen how the National Security Agency will use the Mandrake technology and to what extent it may be able to identify individuals under different settings.