Scientists developing thumb-based continuous authentication solution for smartphones

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a team of researchers with a $718,000 grant to develop a thumb-based continuous authentication system that could be integrated into smartphones to detect unauthorized access, according to Illinois State University News.

The team will include Jianwei La, an assistant professor at Illinois State University’s School of Information Technology.

The NSF’s Division of Computer and Network Systems grant will help in developing an authentication process, which can also be used by individuals with visual impairments.

“The interactions, such as strokes, that users make with their thumbs when working with smartphones can be very unique,” said Lai. “We can use these interactions to identify different users. This is what we call thumb biometrics.”

Lai and her team, who are based out of the University of Maryland, plan to develop an authentication system that can distinguish the identities of users based on their thumb biometrics.

“If someone steals my phone, he may try to log in with my password. But the way I enter my password is different than the way the thief does it,” said Lai. “Our goal is to have a way for the phone to detect who is logging in based on the thumb biometrics.”

The work will expand on Lai’s doctoral research in information systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County when she developed a one-handed and sight-free keyboard to help users type on smartphones.

“We are very connected to technology as a people,” said Lai. “So any way we can improve the path to technology for people especially those with special needs, the more connected we all are. Say a person is trying to log into their phone while holding a cup of coffee. In many situations, using a phone with one hand would be very nice.”

Lai added that the interdisciplinary nature of the work will help encourage teaching, training, and education in mobile security and privacy, human-computer interaction, and mobile accessibility.

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