Archives May 23, 2019

Phones Can Now Tell Who Is Carrying Them From Their Users’ Gaits

Most online fraud involves identity theft, which is why businesses that operate on the web have a keen interest in distinguishing impersonators from genuine customers. Passwords help. But many can be guessed or are jotted down imprudently. Newer phones, tablets, and laptop and desktop computers often have beefed-up security with fingerprint and facial recognition. But these can be spoofed. To overcome these shortcomings the next level of security is likely to identify people using things which are harder to copy, such as the way they walk. Many online security services already use a system called device fingerprinting. This employs software to note things like the model type of a gadget employed by a particular user; its hardware configuration; its operating system; the apps which have been downloaded onto it; and other features, including sometimes the Wi-Fi networks it regularly connects through and devices like headsets it plugs into.

LexisNexis Risk Solutions, an American analytics firm, has catalogued more than 4 billion phones, tablets and other computers in this way for banks and other clients. Roughly 7% of them have been used for shenanigans of some sort. But device fingerprinting is becoming less useful. Apple, Google and other makers of equipment and operating systems have been steadily restricting the range of attributes that can be observed remotely. That is why a new approach, behavioral biometrics, is gaining ground. It relies on the wealth of measurements made by today’s devices. These include data from accelerometers and gyroscopic sensors, that reveal how people hold their phones when using them, how they carry them and even the way they walk. Touchscreens, keyboards and mice can be monitored to show the distinctive ways in which someone’s fingers and hands move. Sensors can detect whether a phone has been set down on a hard surface such as a table or dropped lightly on a soft one such as a bed. If the hour is appropriate, this action could be used to assume when a user has retired for the night. These traits can then be used to determine whether someone attempting to make a transaction is likely to be the device’s habitual user.

If used wisely, the report says behavioral biometrics could be used to authenticate account-holders without badgering them for additional passwords or security questions; it could even be used for unlocking the doors of a vehicle once the gait of the driver, as measured by his phone, is recognized, for example.

“Used unwisely, however, the system could become yet another electronic spy, permitting complete strangers to monitor your actions, from the moment you reach for your phone in the morning, to when you fling it on the floor at night,” the report adds.