Could swipe gestures be the next big thing in biometrics?

What's in my bag 01.05.2011

In today’s increasingly connected world, the average person is tasked with remembering an enormous number of usernames, passwords, and PINs. It’s enough of a headache that an entire software genre (which includes apps like LastPass and 1Password) have sprung up to help users deal with the deluge of credentials. Other options exist, of course, like biometrics, but they’ve yet to be adopted on a large scale and the sensors still aren’t common in consumer devices.

Touchscreens, on the other hand, are just about everywhere. And with the impending launch of Windows 8, we’re going to see more and more desktop and laptop displays shipping with multitouch support. That creates a new authentication opportunity, and one that NYU doctorate student Napa Sae-Bae hopes to make a reality.

Her system seems elegantly simple. An app waits for touch interaction to take place and then tracks whatever gesture the user makes. After analyzing the movement pattern, access is either granted or denied. The app takes a close look at a number of different variables, including the speed at which the gesture is performed, the angle of the fingers, and their spacing. The analytical process coupled with the fact that no two people are built exactly the same make it incredibly difficult to accurately copy another person’s gesture.

It sounds a heck of a lot more practical than pecking numbers to unlock an iPhone, and even if the process did leave tell-tale finger smudges on a display it still wouldn’t provide enough information to allow someone to gain access to the device.

The real beauty is that it could work on existing touchscreen devices without any hardware modification. From three-year-old Android devices to Synaptics touchpads, Napa Sae-Bae’s system could provide an excellent alternative to password log-in.