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Engineers Develop New Finger Vibration-Based Security System

The catchy Beach Boys song, “Good, good, good, good vibrations”, and so on, was a big hit in 1966.

An illustration of a finger touching a solid surface with a sensor to detect vibrations. The VibWrite system can be linked to three types of pass codes for user authentication. The DAISY Lab

Rutgers engineers have now developed VibWrite, a smart access system capable of sensing finger vibrations in order to verify users. The cost-effective security system could be eventually used in order to gain access to apartment buildings, cars, homes, appliances – anything that has a solid surface.

Everyone’s finger bone structure is unique, and their fingers apply different pressures on surfaces, so sensors that detect subtle physiological and behavioral differences can identify and authenticate a person.

Yingying (Jennifer) Chen, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

Chen is senior author of a peer-reviewed paper on VibWrite that was published online on October 29, 2017, at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security, a leading annual event of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). The global conference in Dallas, Texas, calls together information security researchers, developers, practitioners and users who explore cutting-edge research. VibWrite paper co-authors are Jian Liu and Chen Wang, doctoral students who work along with Chen, and a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

According to the paper, the market for smart security access systems is estimated to grow rapidly, reaching almost $10 billion by the year 2022. Currently existing smart security access systems mainly depend on standard techniques that use cameras, cards, intercoms or fingerprints in order to authenticate users. However, these systems need costly equipment, diverse maintenance needs and complex hardware installation.

VibWrite aims at allowing user verification when fingers touch any solid surface, the paper says. VibWrite incorporates passcode, physiological and behavioral characteristics. It builds on a touch-sensing technique by making use of vibration signals. It is different than standard, password-based approaches, which authenticate passwords instead of legitimate users, as well as behavioral biometrics-based solutions, which usually involve fingerprint readers, touch screens or other costly hardware and lead to privacy concerns and “smudge attacks” that track oily residues present on surfaces from fingers.

Smart access systems that use fingerprinting and iris-recognition are very secure, but they’re probably more than 10 times as expensive as our VibWrite system, especially when you want to widely deploy them.

Yingying (Jennifer) Chen, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

With VibWrite, users can choose from PINs, gestures or lock patterns in order to gain secure access, the paper says. The authentication process can be carried out on any solid surface beyond touch screens and on all screen sizes. It is resistant to “side-channel attacks”, for instance, when someone sets a hidden vibration receiver on the surface or uses an adjacent microphone in order to capture vibration signals. It is also capable of resisting several other varieties of attacks, including when an attacker acquires passcodes after noticing a user multiple times.

A key benefit is that a VibWrite system uses minimal power and is cost-effective. It is available with an inexpensive vibration motor and receiver, and is capable of turning any solid surface into an authentication surface. Both maintenance and hardware installation are easy, and “VibWrite undoubtedly could be commercialized in just a couple of years,” Chen said.

During two trials, VibWrite succeeded in verifying legitimate users with more than 95% accuracy and the false positive rate was less than 3%. However, the current VibWrite system needs enhancements as users may require a few attempts to pass the system. The Rutgers-led team will be improving the performance by deploying multiple sensor pairs, upgrading authentication algorithms and refining the hardware. Additionally, they will also have to further test the system outdoors to account for changing temperatures, winds, wetness, dust, humidity, dirt and various other conditions.

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