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NSA tests gesture recognition for smartphone access control


Lockheed Martin said that the National Security Agency has tested the use of its new smartphone-swipe recognition technology, which verifies a user’s identity based on the swiftness and shape of their finger strokes on a touch screen, according to a report by Nextgov.

The technology is one of the more recent versions of handwriting-motion recognition or “dynamic signature” biometrics, which has previously been used by the Air Force.

“Nobody else has the same strokes,” said John Mears, senior fellow for Lockheed IT and Security Solutions. “People can forge your handwriting in two dimensions, but they couldn’t forge it in three or four dimensions. Three is the pressure you put in, in addition to the two dimensions on the paper. The fourth dimension is time. The most advanced handwriting-type authentication tracks you in four dimensions.”

Dubbed “Mandrake,” the technology measures a number of biometric factors including the speed, acceleration and the curve of a person’s finger strokes.

“We’ve done work with the NSA with that for secure gesture authentication as a technique for using smartphones,” said Mears said. “They are actually able to use it.”

It remains to be seen how or if the NSA has operationally deployed the Mandrake smartphone doodling-recognition tool, said Lockheed officials.

Aside from the occasional use in retail to improve customer service by allowing sales staff to authorize sensitive transactions, handwriting-gesture recognition technology has not been widely used in the ID management sector.

The technology could have various applications at the NSA, such as helping emergency responders who do not have the time or capability to access an incident command website, Mears said.

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