Glenn Kaufman, a cybersecurity engineer at defense contractor Raytheon, had been searching for ways to improve computer authentication. He read about an effort to use pressure sensitive gun grips to authenticate a gun owner, and wondered if something similar might work for a computer mouse.
Four years later, Kaufman was recently awarded a patent for a biometric pressure grip that describes how a mouse can be used to authenticate someone.
"Today's world is based on layers of security, so the more layers that you can add to your system the better," said Kaufman, in an interview. "This is just an added layer to basically authenticate you to the system."
In environments with high security, authentication may include use of a smartcard with embedded chips, as well as fingerprint recognition to authenticate users. There are also options for facial recognition and retina scans.
But smartcards can be stolen, fingerprints lifted off surfaces, passwords cracked and photographic substitutes used to defeat facial recognition and retina scans. The information needed for a retina scan, for instance, can be stolen from a doctor's office.
A pressure sensitive mouse "is a lot harder to defeat" because it works from a neurological pattern versus a physical pattern, such as a facial scan. The way people hold a mouse, along with the amount of pressure they apply, is unique.
"It's not just how much pressure you exert on the mouse itself, but it's also the x-y coordinates of your position," Kaufman said.
To prove this, Kaufman built a mouse with pressure sensors and tested it on 10 people. He extrapolated the results to indicate a failure rate of one in 10,000, which is similar to what the pressure gun grip researchers had discovered.
People use their mouse in unique ways. "It's your nerves and your nerve control of your muscles that produces this signature," Kaufman said.
The pressure sensitive mouse isn't a replacement for other methods of authentication, he said. Raytheon has no immediate plans to mass produce its invention, although if it gets a request from a customer for it that could change.
Apple recently received a patent for a pressure sensitive mouse, with the goal of using touch sensing to differentiate between left and right clicks, "so that squeezing the mouse generates input signals."