Date of Award

Winter 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Computational Analysis and Modeling

First Advisor

Vir Phoha


Research on cyber-behavioral biometric authentication has traditionally assumed naïve (or zero-effort) impostors who make no attempt to generate sophisticated forgeries of biometric samples. Given the plethora of adversarial technologies on the Internet, it is questionable as to whether the zero-effort threat model provides a realistic estimate of how these authentication systems would perform in the wake of adversity. To better evaluate the efficiency of these authentication systems, there is need for research on algorithmic attacks which simulate the state-of-the-art threats.

To tackle this problem, we took the case of keystroke and touch-based authentication and developed a new family of algorithmic attacks which leverage the intrinsic instability and variability exhibited by users' behavioral biometric patterns. For both fixed-text (or password-based) keystroke and continuous touch-based authentication, we: 1) Used a wide range of pattern analysis and statistical techniques to examine large repositories of biometrics data for weaknesses that could be exploited by adversaries to break these systems, 2) Designed algorithmic attacks whose mechanisms hinge around the discovered weaknesses, and 3) Rigorously analyzed the impact of the attacks on the best verification algorithms in the respective research domains.

When launched against three high performance password-based keystroke verification systems, our attacks increased the mean Equal Error Rates (EERs) of the systems by between 28.6% and 84.4% relative to the traditional zero-effort attack.

For the touch-based authentication system, the attacks performed even better, as they increased the system's mean EER by between 338.8% and 1535.6% depending on parameters such as the failure-to-enroll threshold and the type of touch gesture subjected to attack. For both keystroke and touch-based authentication, we found that there was a small proportion of users who saw considerably greater performance degradation than others as a result of the attack. There was also a sub-set of users who were completely immune to the attacks.

Our work exposes a previously unexplored weakness of keystroke and touch-based authentication and opens the door to the design of behavioral biometric systems which are resistant to statistical attacks.