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LatentGesture Recognizes Touch for Added Security

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Arthur Berman


User Interface - A variety of means are currently in use to prevent the unauthorized unlocking and use of portable electronic devices such as cell phones and tablets.  To enhance these means, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA) are developing a new security technology called LatentGesture that is based on the user’s “touch signature.”

Touch signature refers to the user’s unique style of touch interaction with the touchscreen of an electronic device.  Polo Chau, an Assistant Professor in the School of Computational Science and Engineering and the team leader in this work, explained that “Just like your fingerprint, everyone is unique when they use a touchscreen.”  Chau goes on to state that “Some people slide the bar with one quick swipe.  Others gradually move it across the screen.  Everyone taps the screen with different pressures while checking boxes.”

Capitalizing on the uniqueness of such interactions, LatentGesture determines the user’s touch signature when manipulating the touchscreen of an electronic device.  The system then checks whether the pattern matches one previously designated as belonging to the device’s owner.  Based on the result of the comparison, the system can be programmed to unlock the device if the signatures match or to keep the device locked and unusable if the signatures do not match.

LatentGesture is designed to run continuously in the background.  The system will constantly compares the touch signature of the owner to that of the current user.  In this way, the user does not have to undertake any action to be provided an added level of security.


To test the LatentGesture system, Chau’s team requested 20 participants fill out an electronic form.  In accomplishing this task, the participants needed to tap buttons, check boxes and swipe slider bars.  The tests were conducted on Android smartphones and tablets in which LatentGesture had been installed.  During the test, data was collected to create a profile for each person.  The researchers then assigned one person’s touch signature as belonging to the device’s owner.  The tests were then repeated.  LatentGesture successfully identified both the owner and essentially all the unauthorized users.  More specifically, the system was nearly 98% accurate on a smartphone and 97% correct on tablets.

In an effort to illustrate potential uses of the LatentGesture system, one of the team members stated that, “It’s pretty easy for someone to look over your shoulder while you’re unlocking your phone and see your password.”  If this should occur, “This system ensures security even if someone takes your phone or tablet and starts using it.”

Offering another example, “This feature could be used when a child uses her dad’s tablet.”  The team member continued explaining that, “The system would recognize her touch signature and allow her to use the device.  But if she tried to buy an app, the system could prevent it.”

In considering LatentGesture technology, it seems to have the potential of becoming not only a first line of defense against unauthorized usage but also a means to further strengthen existing means of security.  -Arthur Berman

 Georgia Tech College of Computing, Polo Chau, 404-385-7682, polo@gatech.edu

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