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Updated: January 8, 2010 17:10 IST

Now a keyboard that identifies users by typing style

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With further improvements to typing-style recognition, passwords may no longer be needed for some systems, says scientists. File Photo: CV Subrahmanyam
The Hindu
With further improvements to typing-style recognition, passwords may no longer be needed for some systems, says scientists. File Photo: CV Subrahmanyam

British scientists have claimed to have developed a software that enables keyboard to identify the user and his state of mind, a discovery that may make passwords and other security systems things of past.

The software, developed by Mike Dowman and colleagues at the University of Abertay in the UK, use 36 characters of login details in 42,840 attempts. The software was able to detect 97.2 per cent of the users correctly.

It can also detect stress level of the user by the speed and rhythm of his typing - for example people press a key shorter on average but they hit it hard and for long when stressed, journal New Scientist reported.

Dowman suggested the software could be used by retailers or banks to detect whether you are logging into your account under extreme stress or duress.

“There’s no question: people do type differently under stress,” he said.

He believed, “Security systems could be designed to raise the alarm if it seems that a person might be being forced to log into a system, whether a cash machine or online account, however more research will be needed before a system could tell if a person is, say, just having a bad day or being held at gunpoint”. Neil Barrett, a computer security consultant and visiting professor at the Centre for Forensic Computing and Security at Cranfield University, UK, said the Abertay system’s success rate is similar to other biometric systems in use, such as voice prints or the fingerprint scanners built into laptops.

With further improvements to typing-style recognition, passwords may no longer be needed for some systems, he said, adding “you can take the identification characteristics of the way they type in their user name.”

The Abertay group have received patents on their ideas about detecting signs of a stressful environment in a person’s typing style.

In the study, the team asked 35 people to log into a computer 36 times over three separate sessions up to a month apart, using the same user name and password.

People were put into stressed and neutral states alternately by listening to a range of sounds known to elicit particular emotions and heard either heard gentle paper crumpling or arguing couples and emergency sirens.

The length of time each key was held down and the interval between one being released and another pressed was recorded to generate a typing “fingerprint” for each person.

Electrodes were attached to the typists’ hands to detect sweating - a sign of stress also exploited by lie detectors.

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