Oxford's eDNA May Protect Your Identity, But Can Also Tell If You're Drunk or Have Had Sex
What if your computer could tell who you were just from the way you use it? Oxford researchers have made this possible with their research on what they call "eDNA" (electronically Defined Natural Attributes), or a collection of individual behaviors that, when compiled, can afford you with your very own unique electronic signature that can more effectively prevent identity theft than passwords.
The researchers identified approximately 500 different behaviors that are unique to every individual, such as how fast they type, the way they move a mouse, or the way they hold a smartphone.
"Electronic DNA allows us to see vastly more information about you. Like DNA it is almost impossible to fake, as it is very hard to go online and not be yourself. It is as huge a jump in the amount of information that could be gathered about an individual as the jump from fingerprints to DNA. It is that order of magnitude," said Adrian Neal, chief executive of Oxford BioChronometrics.
This technology is both impressive and ominous, as it not only allows a person to develop a unique electronic signature, but changes in these subtle behaviors can tell the researchers all manner of private information about the individual, such as whether the person is drunk, has just had sex, or is at risk for an imminent heart attack.
"It is easy to tell when someone has been taking drugs using this technology," says Neal. "But it would place us in a difficult situation if we did. So it's best we don't. We just want to collect the data to make sure that x is who x says they are." He envisions this technology effectively replacing passwords, allowing anyone to login to any device while still confirming their identity with their physical attributes.
Although somewhat invasive, eDNA has the potential to protect citizens from hackers and distinguish between robots and humans. Oxford Biochronometrics' research shows that 90-92% of clicks on adverts and 95% of logins are actually from automated programs. David Scheckel, president of Oxford BioChronometrics, said, "We can hold companies like Google and Facebook to account [for their spam bots], and they know this technology is coming."
Prof Chris Mitchell of the Information Security Group at Royal Holloway, stated regarding the new technology, "Using different factors to prove your identity online is always good." But he then clarified that it might cost businesses to adjust to the new software and may turn citizens away for privacy reasons: "It may... add to the cost and inconvenience of business as companies' own software will likely have to be rejigged... There will also be resistance by customers if you find your behaviour monitored, a little bit of pushback."