Rutgers engineers have created a new type of user authentication system that relies on transmitting vibrations through a surface and having the user touch the surface to generate a unique signature. This signature is then used to approve or deny a user access to an app, room, or building.

The new system is named VibWrite and has been developed by the Wireless Information Network Laboratory (WINLAB) at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

How VibWrite works

The way VibWrite works is quite simple. The system relies on placing an inexpensive vibration motor and receiver on a solid surface, such as wood, metal, plastic, glass, etc..

The motor sends vibrations to the receiver. When the user touches the surface with one of his fingers, the vibration waves are modified to create a unique signature per user and per finger.

VibWrite vibration patterns

But because signatures produced by vibrations going through one finger aren't long enough, Rutgers researchers say that VibWrite is more secure when users are asked to draw a pattern or enter a code on a PIN pad drawn on the solid surface.

This also generates a unique fingerprint, but far more complex than just touching the surface with one finger.

VibWrite use cases

VibWrite is cheaper than classic biometric solutions

Researchers say their system is not only more secure than classic fingerprint and iris scanning authentication systems, but it's also almost ten times cheaper, relying on inexpensive off-the-shelve electronics equipment and using minimal power to operate. Furthermore, any maintenance operations are also much easier and quicker to carry out.

During two tests, VibWrite verified users with a 95% accuracy and a 3% false positive rate. The only problem researchers encountered in the live trials was that some users had to draw the pattern or enter the PIN number several times before they passed the VibWrite authentication test.

Rutgers researchers expect their system to be ready for commercialization in "a couple of years."

VibWrite needs to be tested in outdoor environments

Besides improvements to the accuracy with which VibWrite can detect finger vibrations, researchers also plan to look into how VibWrite will behave in outdoor environments to account for varying temperatures, humidity, winds, wetness, dust, dirt, and other conditions.

This new novel user authentication system is described in full in a research paper entitled "VibWrite: Towards Finger-input Authentication on Ubiquitous Surfaces via Physical Vibration."

Rutgers researchers showcased VibWrite at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Conference on Computer and Communications Security that took place last week in Dallas, Texas.

At the same conference, researchers from Florida International University and Bloomberg also presented the Pixie app, another user authentication system that uses photos of personal objects as the second authentication factor in two-factor authentication (2FA) systems.

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