Hong Kong researchers develop lip-reading password to foil imposters

Users create a short phrase of any length and language in a unique form of authentication

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 9:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2017, 7:24pm

Researchers at Hong Kong Baptist University have developed a lip reading password system they hope can be used to verify identity in such areas as customs clearance and electronic payments.

While the technology is similar to other types of biometric recognition systems, such as fingerprint reading, it adds an extra layer of protection by allowing users to modify their passwords – in the form of lip syncing a phrase – in the event of a security breach.

The system enables users to complete authentication within seconds by uttering a short phrase of their choice – regardless of length and language.

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“You can use English, Cantonese or Putonghua ... you can even mimic a bird chirping,” explained computer science professor Cheung Yiu-ming, who led the research team of three.

The user does not even have to read the phrase aloud as the lip sequence is analysed visually, meaning people with speech disabilities can use it.

Like other biometrics technologies, the system has to go through a learning phase by requiring users to repeat the phrase 10 times to recognise the lip sequence.

“This allows the system to build a threshold to either accept or reject the phrase. Each time the phrase is repeated, there are bound to be tiny differences in the sequence.”

Cheung said everyone had a different lip sequence, which meant imposters would be screened out.

“An imposter reading the same phrase would still be rejected by the system.”

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The software is still at the prototype stage and there is no time frame for when it can be used commercially.

Cheung admitted there were areas to work on, such as how reliability was affected by the brightness of the environment. “Overall the accuracy is around 90 per cent.”

He also did not address whether the system can be fooled by showing a video recording of the lip reader over a screen, stressing the technology was not mutually exclusive with other authentication systems.

Asked how long it would take to roll out the US-patented technology, Cheung said he hoped it could be achieved within a year.

The university’s Knowledge Transfer Office is now exploring commercial opportunities and a price has not been set.

Axis Communications, which specialises in video surveillance solutions, agreed that security procedures worked best when different technologies worked hand in hand.

A company representative said facial recognition technology was currently used in VIP recognition at luxury hotels and high-end retailers around the world, provided there was a database of important guests.