Beyond Passwords Or: How I Learned To Stop Hating And Worked Without Forced Authentication

Everyone knows there is a problem with passwords.  What I would like to do is I’d like to move us to a world where you sit down at a console, identify yourself, and you just start working.  The authentication happens in the background – invisible to you – while you continue doing your work without interruptions.”  – Mr. Richard Guidorizzi, DARPA Program Manager, Beyond Passwords

The current standard method for validating a user’s identity for authentication on an information system requires humans to do something that is inherently unnatural: create, remember, and manage long, complex passwords.

Moreover, as long as the session remains active, typical systems incorporate no mechanisms to verify that the user originally authenticated is the user still in control of the keyboard.

Thus unauthorized individuals may improperly obtain extended access to information system resources if a password is compromised or if a user does not exercise adequate vigilance after initially authenticating at the console.

The Active Authentication program seeks to address this problem by developing novel ways of validating the identity of the person at the console that focus on the unique aspects of the individual through the use of software based biometrics.  Biometrics are defined as the characteristics used to uniquely recognize humans based on one or more intrinsic physical or behavioral traits.

This program focuses on the behavioral traits that can be observed through how we interact with the world.  Just as when you touch something your finger you leave behind a fingerprint, when you interact with technology you do so in a pattern based on how your mind processes information, leaving behind a “cognitive fingerprint.”

The first phase of the program will focus on researching biometrics that do not require the installation of additional hardware sensors, rather the program will look for research on biometrics that can be captured through the technology we already use looking for aspects of this “cognitive fingerprint.”

These could include, for example, how the user handles the mouse and how the user crafts written language in an e-mail or document.  A heavy emphasis will be placed on validating any potential new biometrics with empirical tests to ensure they would be effective in large scale deployments.

The later phases of the program will focus on developing a solution that integrates any available biometrics using a new authentication platform suitable for deployment on a standard a Department of Defense desktop or laptop.

The combinatorial approach of using multiple modalities for continuous user identification and authentication is expected to deliver a system that is accurate, robust, and transparent to the user’s normal computing experience.  The authentication platform will be developed with open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to allow the integration of other software or hardware biometrics available in the future from other sources.

Information for this article and video provided by DARPA