Getting to know you: a more personal approach to user ID on smartphones
SilentSense uses a smartphone's existing sensors, such as its gyroscope and accelerometer, to record how the device's owner uses his or her phone (Image: D. Hammonds/shutterstock)
Published Sunday, September 15, 2013 7:26PM EDT
Scientists have developed an authentication system for smartphones that can identify their owners from the way they hold, touch or swipe their devices and the way in which they walk.
Thought that Apple's fingerprint scanning technology was impressive? Well think again. In the same week that the latest iPhone made its public debut, a group of scientists at the Illinois Institute of Technology, led by Cheng Bo, have demonstrated something that takes biometrics to a whole new level and does so without anything as intrusive as scanning a finger.
Called SilentSense, the system uses a smartphone's existing sensors, such as its gyroscope and accelerometer, to record how the device's owner uses his or her phone.
The amount of pressure they exert, where, and for how long, when touching or swiping the screen, the size of the owner's finger, and favored holding angles and use positions, to build up a biometric image of the owner. It can even recognize and identify a user's gait from movement and direction detected by the sensors when the owner is walking.
"Different users, dependent on sex and age among other things, will have different habits in interacting," says Bo of the system. Indeed, it is so sensitive that it is able to identify a new user with 98 percent accuracy after a mere 2.3 touches.
That figure moves to 99 percent after 10 taps. And, unlike Apple's Touch ID, the results are unaffected by sweaty or wet hands, or by scarred or marked fingertips.
Those in the tech community of a more neurotic disposition have already suggested that thieves may be tempted to amputate a person's finger in order to steal their phone if fingerprint scanners catch on, but in order to dupe SilentSense the criminal in question would have to be a method actor of a caliber greater than Brando, Hoffman or triple Oscar winner, Daniel Day Lewis, and when someone is that great a mimic, there are much easier and better ways of making money than by taking other people's property.
However, SilentSense is still in the testing and development phase, meaning that for the time being at least, Apple's Touch ID is the most biometrically secure way of keeping a smartphone and its contents safe.