How your electronic DNA could be the secure login of the future

young woman looking at Facebook website on laptop computer. Image shot 2008. Exact date unknown.

About 500 different behaviours are unique to every individual and, taken together, form what they call ‘eDNA’.

Read my exclusive story for The Guardian and which was  the top story on Technology Guardian  all weekend as well as editor’s choice on the app. The Guardian is one of the top ten news sites in the world by popularity. It was also re-published by  popular US site Business Insider.

 

New research could allow our physical behaviour to be used as a secure way of logging in to our computers and smartphones, a team at the University of Oxford say, claiming that they can also detect when a person is drunk or has had sex.

Researchers have identified that every individual creates a unique pattern of physical behaviour including the speed at which they type, the way they move a mouse of the way they hold a phone.

About 500 different behaviours are unique to every individual and, taken together, form what they call “eDNA”, or electronically Defined Natural Attributes. Changes in this string of physical behaviour might even be able to signal when someone has taken drugs, had sex, or if they might be susceptible to a heart attack in three months’ time.

“Electronic DNA allows us to see vastly more information about you,” says Adrian Neal, who developed the technology while studying for an MSc at the university and is now chief executive of Oxford BioChronometrics.

“Like DNA it is almost impossible to fake, as it is very hard to go online and not be yourself. It is as huge a jump in the amount of information that could be gathered about an individual as the jump from fingerprints to DNA. It is that order of magnitude.”

Oxford BioChronometrics is a startup from Oxford University that with the help of Isis Innovation Software Incubator is being transferred into the private sector, or spun out, on 18 July in order to take the commercialisation of the technology to the next stage. Isis Innovation is the technology transfer company of Oxford University. Biochronometrics is the measurement of change in biological behaviour over time.

“It is easy to tell when someone has been taking drugs using this technology,” says Neal. “But it would place us in a difficult situation if we did. So it’s best we don’t. We just want to collect the data to make sure that x is who x says they are.”

This eDNA will eventually be used to allow an individual to login on any computer or mobile device, Neal explained, by confirming their identity.

David Scheckel, president of Oxford BioChronometrics, says that eDNA would be able to spot whether a click on an advert or a site is from an automated program, or so-called bot, or a real human. “We can hold companies like Google and Facebook to account ,and they know this technology is coming,” he said.

Oxford BioChronometrics’ own research suggests that 90-92% of clicks on adverts and 95% of logins are actually from bots. Their first product NoMoreCaptchas which stops spam bots from registering and logging on has already quietly been rolled out to 700 companies.

Adrian Neal, a former cryptographic expert, said the eDNA project has its roots in several decades’ worth of research including biometrics, which can measure keystrokes or mouse movements, but these were thought to be too insecure to use as a login principle.

As computing power, along with the ability to gather large volumes of information from users, researchers were able to identify much broader and more complex patterns of interaction with their devices.

Prof Chris Mitchell of the Information Security Group at Royal Holloway, is more sceptical that eDNA will reach the mainstream. “Using different factors to prove your identity online is always good,” he says, but believes consumers won’t be happy to be continuously assessed in this way. “It may also add to the cost and inconvenience of business as companies’ own software will likely have to be rejigged.”

“But there will also be resistance by customers if you find your behaviour monitored, a little bit of pushback,” he added.

 

 

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