A prototype for automating computer log-offs

The term “backronym” was coined to describe a phase constructed to fit a suitable word, as opposed to the simpler process of making acronyms. NASA is an acronym. ZEBRA, which stands for Zero-Effort Bilateral Recurring Authentication, is a Dartmouth research team’s triple-axel effort at a backronym.

No, not this kind. Courtesy: Odense Zoo, Denmark

No, not this kind. Courtesy: Odense Zoo, Denmark

So what does this ZEBRA do and why should seniors care? Well, it’s a somewhat complicated sounding way to solve a basic computer security problem: People forgetting to log out of websites or log off computer terminals. As the Dartmouth team’s research abstract says, “The most common solution, inactivity timeouts, inevitably fail security (too long a timeout) or usability (too short a timeout) goals.”

To solve the problem, they’ve created a prototype bracelet that has a built-in accelerometer, gyroscope, and radio. The bracelet records the wearer’s precise movements during mouse and keyboard use and communicates them to the computer terminal. If the movements start to differ, the computer knows to shut out this (presumably) different user. The team claims 85% accuracy in correctly identifying users.

We realize this seems more than a bit Rube Goldberg, but highly accurate hand movement sensing could one day find a place in medical diagnostics and physical therapy, as well as helping to keep forgetful seniors password-protected information secure.

In addition to computer security, user sensing might even be the ultimate lock-out in battles over the television remote. Now there’s a market!