More secure signatures

IBM is working on a system using dynamic signature verification as a biometric authentication of the purchaser. The system, dubbed Sign and Go, checks your signature by comparing it to several previously recorded samples and analysing the speed and the movements of your hand when you sign on a digital pad.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, IBM is working on a system using dynamic signature verification as a biometric authentication of the purchaser and to reduce fraud at point of sales counters. The system, dubbed Sign and Go, checks your signature by comparing it to several previously recorded samples and analyzing the speed and the movements of your hand when you sign on a digital pad. With such a system, which is far less intrusive than other biometric technologies, you wouldn't need any ID or even to show a credit card. But so far, Sign and Go has been tested for more than two years and IBM has not said when the technology becomes available.

Below is an image showing the Sign and Go technology in action (Credit: IBM). You'll find a larger version of this picture and a list of the key characteristics of the technology on the Signature Verification for Retail and Banking page at IBM Almaden Research Center.

The Sign and Go technology in action

Now, let's return to the San Francisco Chronicle to listen to a researcher.

Dubbed Sign and Go, the signature-verification technology uses the unique ways individuals sign their names, in the same way that people have distinct irises and fingerprints, said Thomas Zimmerman, a researcher at IBM Almaden Research Center's computer science department.
"I'd like to call it the dance of the pen on the pad," Zimmerman said. "When I sign, there's all these little curves that I'm doing and pauses and such. ... Think of your hand as basically a tiny little car. It's accelerating, it's making a right turn, it's making a U-turn. There's this whole dance your hand's doing, which is quite detailed."

So how does the technology work? First you need electronic pads to write your signature, but many retail chains are already equipped. The only thing to add is the Sign and Go software to build a full dynamic signature verification system.

If a signature is a 95 percent match of the one stored in the system, a green check mark appears. But one that is rated only 1 or 2 percent gets a red "x" and is rejected as a forgery.
Zimmerman said that if a person is rejected by the signature verification system, that customer can present a backup form of identification, depending on a store's policy.

This is nice to hear, because the technology also can fail.

[Zimmerman] said 1 out of 50 forgers who took part in the tests succeeded in fooling the system, mainly because they had seen specimens of the signatures they were asked to copy and these signatures were easy to forge.

And when will this technology be available?

No definite date has been set for rolling out the signature-verification system, nor has a price been set, IBM said. Dan Hopping, IBM's senior consulting manager for retail, said the Sign and Go technology, along with similar biometric systems involving facial and voice recognition, are already being tested in company labs and in retail pilot projects

In fact, the technology has been tested for more than two years now, as you can see by reading "Signatures Get Tougher To Fake" (InformationWeek, February 24, 2003) and "POS will never be the same" (InternetRetailer.com, October 2004), where you can find other details on the technology.

Another IBM-supported product, Sign and Go, is designed to reduce the likelihood of credit card fraud at POS counters. To use the system, cardholders must record six live samples of their signature, allowing the system to monitor multiple attributes of how the person signs his name, including the speed and pen movement at multiple points. When a customer signs for credit card purchase, the system matches the actual hand movement with the recorded signings through a real-time web connection. Customers don`t even need to show their cards or other identification. "Shoppers can just sign and leave, they don`t even need their wallets," says Mark Indermaur, software marketing manager for the Retail Store Solutions group at IBM Corp.

So will the technology stay in IBM's coffins or will it appear at a shop near your home? Time will tell.

Sources: Benjamin Pimentel, San Francisco Chronicle, October 24, 2005; and various web sites

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