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DARPA Seeks New Methods For Biometric Authentication

Defense Department invites experts to discuss ways to identify people when they sign into to computers without interrupting their normal activity flow.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) is seeking ways to biometrically identifying people when they sign in to use computers without interrupting their normal activity flow.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Active Authentication Program aims to develop software to identify "the individual at the keyboard … through the activities the user normally performs," according to an agency posting on FedBizOpps.gov announcing an Industry Day event about the program next week.

"The Active Authentication program changes the current paradigm by removing the secret that a human holds, the password, and focuses on the secret that the human specifically is," according to DARPA.

Biometric authentication for computers already exists, but usually it is done through an extra step a use must take when logging in, such as pressing a finger to a pad that can scan and identify someone through their fingerprint.

[ Where is DARPA focusing security research efforts? Read DARPA Boosts Cybersecurity Research Spending 50%. ]

Iris scanning--in which a person is identified by a machine that captures an image of his or her iris--also is another popular biometric-authentication method, but normally for larger form-factor machines, such as airport security scanners.

DARPA, however, wants to skip any extra steps and locate biometric factors to identify someone while they're working naturally at the keyboard, according to the agency. The initial goal for the program is to identify someone working at a desktop in a typical DOD office environment.

On the Industry Day, DARPA plans to discuss its ideas for new approaches to biometrics and identify potential participants in the program.

Given the vulnerabilities of traditional password authentication systems, the federal government has been working on biometric options for identifying users of its systems and facilities to more firmly secure access to them.

To that end, the feds are developing biometric ID cards that include options for both fingerprint and iris scans for all federal employees and contractors when entering facilities or using computer systems. The move is mandated by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, which is aimed at increasing security and efficiency, reducing identity fraud, cutting costs, and protecting personal privacy.

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