An Israeli university has developed a smartphone app that can identify if the user is the owner or not in 14 seconds.

Scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) developed the extra layer of security after learning how easily password-protected devices can be broken into, and set about developing a system to identify thieves in real time.

Their clever solution works by analysing the way the user presses the touch-screen, including how often they touch it and in what way, for example, how they type, how much of the finger is used, and how many accidental touches or swipes are made.

“We account for the application being used, since how one presses on the screen is different for each application,” said researcher Liron Ben Kimon. “For example, typing in WhatsApp, as opposed to scrolling in the browser.”

The team’s model classifies groups of the owner’s touches and builds up a history, including what they did on the device 30 seconds before the touch, which areas of the screen they touched, which buttons they pressed, even electricity consumption.

“Differentiating the user according to how they touch the screen is a verification method that is hard to imitate, since a thief cannot steal another user’s behaviour,” said Kimon, whose team launched the app at a conference in Tel Aviv last week.

It is BGU’s latest security breakthrough and forms a suite of products, the University recently having developed an app that can assess whether someone has drunk too much to drive by assessing their balance, and another that determines the accuracy and genuineness of someone’s signature.