Security at our Fingertips

in News
December 12th, 2012

By Rachel Harrington

ECE student Jonathan Wu (PhD '15), who is working with Professors Ishwar and Konrad on this research, performs an arm swing to test new gesture-based authentication algorithms he has been working on

ECE student Jonathan Wu (PhD '15), who is working with Professors Ishwar and Konrad on this research, performs an arm swing to test new gesture-based authentication algorithms he has been working on

In today’s world, it’s easier to find a college student carrying a laptop, smartphone, or iPod than to spot one without.

As people become increasingly dependent on electronic devices, more personal information, including credit card and bank account passwords, go on these handheld machines as well.

Security is now of great concern since many of these digital pieces require only a four digit passcode to sign in – but what if these tablets could recognize the swipe of your finger?

That’s the idea behind research by Boston University’s Professor Janusz Konrad (ECE) and Associate Professor Prakash Ishwar (ECE), who are collaborating with Professor Nasir Memon and Associate Professor Katherine Isbister, both from the Polytechnic Institute of New York.

“We hope the swipes can be unique enough, by linking several of them to form a word for example, to verify user identity,” said Konrad.

To support the project, the National Science Foundation recently awarded the teams nearly $800,000, with $400,000 of that going to Konrad and Ishwar.

Konrad, Ishwar, and their research team will focus their side of the project on examining how hand and body gestures can be used for authentication.

“For example, hand or body movements could be used to open a door instead of a key swipe if the camera recognized an individual’s gestures,” said Konrad.

Ishwar added that swipes and hand gestures are revocable, meaning that you can update the gesture you use to authenticate yourself. This is different from fingerprints and iris scans which, if compromised, cannot be replaced.

“There are endless choices for personalizing gestures that are easy to remember and reproduce, reliable, and pleasant to work with,” said Ishwar.

Though Ishwar and Konrad have long been exploring the possibilities of camera action recognition, they didn’t think their results would be good enough for authentication until they met Memon when he visited BU as an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Distinguished Lecturer.

“He had already worked on the swipes idea, but when he saw our gesture results, it all clicked together,” said Konrad.

Initial tests using a Microsoft Kinect camera have shown promise, Konrad added, and he and Ishwar are already looking toward other places where their technology might be used.

“One of the challenges will be extending this to regular surveillance cameras often deployed at entrances to buildings,” said Konrad.

If successful, the project has the chance not only to reduce breach-related costs but also increase our sense of security.