New USF patent creates digital alibis

Researchers at the University of South Florida are in the process of licensing new, patented technology that can more accurately confirm a person’s identity and location using their voice. The technology, dubbed “Here I am,” creates an unforgeable, encrypted digital certificate on a user’s mobile phone.

The certificate is valid and verifiable for many years and can be used for authentication in a variety of scenarios, e.g. B. to improve employee accountability, protect victims of domestic violence and criminal justice. The goal is to license the technology directly to telecom providers that use location data. Providers can then offer it to companies to integrate into their own apps, such as ridesharing, to better protect drivers and passengers.

USF computer science and engineering professor Sriram Chellapan has spent the last few years brainstorming inventions to protect people from being falsely accused of crimes.

“When law enforcement is investigating a crime, it’s very common that the detainees are unable to generate verifiable alibis, and that becomes a critical liability,” Chellappan said. “They can no longer work and may lose their job and thus their income. I figured there had to be a way to fix that and prove people’s true whereabouts if needed.”

It wasn’t until 2018 over a cup of coffee with Balaji Padmanabhan, USF Professor of Information Systems and Management, that Chellapan’s quest for social justice came to life. Together they discussed the value of a technology that could allow a person to authenticate their location – a concept previously unavailable with proven anti-counterfeiting.

Although devices can be easily tracked, confirming the identity of the person operating the device is more difficult during this tracking, especially after several years. The team concluded that the most efficient way to overcome this hurdle is to combine a person’s voice with location, date and time – a foolproof way for someone to prove they were there at a specific time stayed at a certain place.

“Most location authentication technologies today primarily authenticate a device like a phone, but not the user. There is no such thing,” Padmanabhan said. “If companies with reliable geolocation can offer this as a service, individual users can simply generate their own authentication if needed, and companies like ridesharing and financial institutions can integrate the technology right into their apps for their employees as an extra layer of protection.”

Computer science and engineering students helped build the Here I Am prototype’s cryptography — the techniques that allow for non-tampering and ensure the confidentiality of all communications.

In the prototype, a Here I Am user initiates a request to generate an authentication certificate. The user is then prompted to read a message aloud. While reading, the user’s device records their voice, which is coupled by a server with date, time, and precise location data to create a cryptographically verifiable certificate that keeps the information on the user’s device forever.

The team created three usage categories for the technology: Solo, where a person voluntarily chooses to authenticate; Parent-child, where the “parent”, such as B. an organization sends a notification to its employee, the “child”, to authenticate themselves; and Ambient, where a user chooses to automatically authenticate their location every few minutes. To address privacy concerns, the user is in control of the authentication provided in all applications.

The different usage categories enable the technology to serve a variety of purposes, e.g. B. Rideshares that validate users and locations to protect both riders and drivers, financial institutions that validate account holders to authorize money transfers, and standardized test administrators that confirm a student’s identity reduce fraud during test administration.

“The requirement to certifiably authenticate a person or asset at any given location at any given time has immense value that has yet to see the daybreak,” Chellappan said. “Our technology enables exactly that and could fundamentally change the immense variety of practical applications.”

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