Explainer: Keystroke recognition

December 8, 2016 - 

Keystroke recognition has been defined by both industry and academics as the process of measuring and assessing a typing rhythm on digital devices, including on: computer keyboards, mobile phones, and touch screen panels.

A noted typing measurement, keystroke recognition, often called “keystroke dynamics”, refers to the detailed timing information that describes exactly when each key was pressed on a digital device and when it was released as a person types. Though biometrics tend to rely on physical traits like fingerprint and face or behavioral characteristics, many consider keystroke dynamics a biometric.

Biometrics Research Group, Inc. defines biometrics as measurable physical and behavioral properties that make it possible to authenticate an individual person’s identity. Biometrics are therefore used as a collective term for the technologies used to measure a person’s unique characteristics and thus authenticate identity.

Keystroke dynamics uses a unique biometric template to identify individuals based on typing pattern, rhythm and speed. The raw measurements used for keystroke dynamics are known as “dwell time” and “flight time”. Dwell time is the duration that a key is pressed, while flight time is the duration between keystrokes. Keystroke dynamics can therefore be described as a software-based algorithm that measures both dwell and flight time to authenticate identity.

In 2004, researchers at MIT looked at the idea of authentication through keystroke biometrics and identified a few major advantages and disadvantages to the use of this biometric for authentication.

Firstly, the researchers concluded that measuring keystroke dynamics is an accessible and unobtrusive biometric as it requires very little hardware besides a keyboard, making it easily deployable for use in enterprises, vis-a-vis workstation log-ins and other access security points, at relatively low cost. Secondly, as each keystroke is captured entirely by key pressed and press time, data can be transmitted over low bandwidth connections.

Other research studies on the keystroke biometrics point out other benefits, including: its ability to seamlessly integrate with existing work environments and security systems with minimal alterations with no additional hardware, along with its non-invasive nature and scalability.

That being said, MIT researchers also identified disadvantages to the use of keystroke dynamics as an authentication tool. Firstly, typing patterns can be erratic and inconsistent as something like cramped muscles and sweaty hands can change a person’s typing pattern significantly. Also, MIT found that typing patterns vary based on the type of keyboard being used, which could significantly complicate verification.

Despite these concerns, other studies note the general preference for biometrics in multi-factor authentication, coupled with high awareness levels will benefit the continued growth in the keystroke dynamics market, while its attributes and low prices are expected to drive the use of the technology in a range of end-use applications.

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About Rawlson King

Rawlson O’Neil King is a contributing editor at BiometricUpdate.com and is an experienced communications professional, management consultant, trade journalist and author who recently published a book about control and electronic networks and who has written numerous articles in trade publications and academic journals about smart home and building technologies. Follow him @rawlsonking2.