Computer programmers have developed software that can uniquely identify an individual by the way they type with a reported accuracy rate of 99.7%. This particular method of identification is the latest avenue of biometrics research and technology.
This software works by analyzing minor variations in keyboard use. This is possible because every individual uses a keyboard slightly differently. These differences can be due to a number of reasons, ranging from the size of a person’s hands to the impaired use of a finger. All of these factors result in unique characteristics when typing, such as the length of time a key is pressed or the pause between hitting the “j” and the “o” keys. Each press of a key can be measured down to the millisecond. Taken together, an individual’s traits contribute to a unique typing signature that is virtually impossible to mimic without detection. Researchers have found that this signature also translates very similarly onto the use of touch-screen keyboards.
There are clear benefits to this technology as the passwords to computers, medical files, and bank accounts could no longer be necessary; the user would just start typing. However, with this new technology also comes some serious concerns about privacy. It is possible for websites to get a user’s typing pattern data as that person uses their website. If this technology progresses unchecked, a person surfing the internet could be uniquely identified regardless of where they were or which computer they were using. The websites collecting that person’s data stand to profit from selling off that information, whether it is shopping and search habits or even sexual orientation and medical history. Therefore, some see this technology as needing to be actively resisted. Programmers are working on web browser plug-ins that would scramble and distort unique typing rhythms before sending it off to a website’s server.
The sole corporate media coverage of this story occurred in March 2012 in The New York Times. The story, published in the newspaper’s business section and distributed only to New York paper subscribers, described the technology and the potential uses for the U.S. Department of Defense, but did not detail any of the privacy concerns that the technology also raises.
Source: Jeff Fox, “Websites Can Now Identify You by the Way You Type: Is That Good or Bad?” State of the Net, September 9, 2015, http://stateofthenet.net/2015/08/websites-can-now-identify-you-by-the-way-you-type-is-that-good-or-bad/.
Student Researcher: Isabelle Elias (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: George Ledin (Sonoma State University)