Professors awarded eye-scanning patent

Author Richard Graves    Category News     Tags


Two University of Alaska Anchorage professors have an idea — and now a patent — to help computer users secure and protect their passwords in an unprecedented way.

Computer scientists Bogdan Hoanca and Kenrick Mock are developing computer authentication — the sign-on process — activated through the user’s iris and eye movements, as captured by an infrared light. No more typing your user name and password on the keyboard, where someone looking over your shoulder or viewing your screen remotely suddenly has the keys to your computer universe.

“Multiple factors of authentication mean better security,” Mock said. “On one level the computer could recognize a particular person’s iris. On another level the scanner can also track the pattern of the person’s gaze on a particular set of icons, for example, and use that as a password.”

Mock and Hoanca have worked on the project for four years with awards and grants from UAA and the National Science Foundation. Their patent award came through July 26.

The team hopes to get equipment to share the technology at UAA and around the community. A one-page explanation of their research, titled “Secure graphical password system for high-traffic public areas,” is available for PDF download.

Eye-tracking technology has been used in a wide range of fields.

Auto safety experts use it on drivers with high accident rates, for instance. With virtual driving scenarios, they monitor where safe drivers look compared to drivers with troubled records in hopes of improving poor driving habits.

Psychologists use it frequently in attention studies, often drawing correlations between what the eyes are seeing and how the brain reacts, attempting to determine the amount of importance the viewer gives to something he or she is looking at.

Mock and Hoanca break new ground in focusing their applications on information security.

Eyes have unique biometrics, from iris patterns to blood vessel configurations. But such biometrics are not enough for security. Testers have successfully unlocked computers merely by holding up a photograph of the correct user’s eye.

The UAA team’s method adds the additional security of measuring angles of the eye as it moves to different locations on a computer screen, as when selecting certain icons from a field of symbols.

These icons are the user’s personal sign-on code. Only the computer “knows” when the right pair of eyes has selected the right set of icons.

To test this idea, UAA undergraduate student Justin Weaver, in collaboration with Mock and Hoanca, developed a system named EyeDent, which allows a user to visually enter an alphanumeric password almost as quickly as typing.

The first eye-scanning equipment the team used had major resolution and stability challenges. A person had to sit so still for the scanner to work that he practically needed a chin rest.

Since then, the scanning instruments’ reliability and performance has improved greatly. Related business applications are already being utilized, such as heat maps for online advertising that let the scanners measure how much time someone spends looking at a particular portion of an advertisement.

Mock and Hoanca envision a growing list of additional uses, from replacing airport security keypads to monitoring specific words that are read on a page.

While these ideas range from security to commercial uses, Hoanca and Mock lean heavily toward educational application. They are actively looking for educational partners in psychology or other academic departments. Mock thinks there may be applications for teaching math. An instructor could see where a math student’s eyes are focused while working on a problem, for example, and determine whether the student was looking at the part of the problem where the solution could be found.

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