"The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be"
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Future according to Keystroke Analysis – and why it matters to you

Posted By Tony Rust

You never know what's around the corner

I am a person who is very keen to see other people doing well.  I like to help.  In my own life I’ve been helped significantly by some really nice people. Some of these people who have done good deeds for me, I didn’t know all that well, but they willingly put themselves out and helped me to do things that I could not have achieved without their assistance. I’m very grateful to these people and they are frequently in my thoughts.

What does this have to do with ‘The Future of Keystroke Analysis’ you might ask.  Well, keystroke analysis, like research solely to find out what the possibilities are, could lead anywhere.  Like my relationships with some totally unrelated people who I didn’t know all that well but who, at various times in my life, helped to change the course of my life.  I didn’t know what would be the outcome of those chance relationships. And we don’t know what the results of the analysis of huge amounts of keypress data collected from users all over the world in many different languages might lead to. But the chances are that it will be significant, life changing for many people.

The computer keyboard, whether QWERY, AZERTY, Dvorak on a PC, laptop, mobile phone or tablet is the main man-machine interface between a human and a computer.  Yes, there are methods of speaking to a computer and it translating that speech into text, but it will be some time before that will ever be as consistently quick and as certain and the communication between a good touch typist and the computer.

To look into the future, it’s often useful to look into the past.

In the beginning was the word… and the word was spoken.  And then it was written down, or pictures representing words, were scratched out on whatever was available: tortoise shells, stone tablets or on clay tablets and baked, or written on animal skins.  It depended on the technology available to a particular civilisation.  Chisels used for writing changed to various forms of pens, and then writing paper of various types was invented and the world chugged along for hundreds of year writing by hand on parchments and papers and creating books by hand.  Then along came the printing press and at that point communication using the written word really took off.

For a long time, the only generally way for government, commerce and individuals to communicate beyond shouting distance was by handwritten communications.  If small numbers of duplicate copies of the communication were required then they were copied by hand.  And not all handwriting was easy to read.

The solution was to invent a mechanised way of writing; a way of producing consistent, legible text on paper, like a printing press but smaller and more affordable.  In 1714, John Mill, an English engineer, obtained the first patent for a machine that produced writing which was ‘so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print’.  This was similar in principle to today’s typewriter.  However, it seems that John Mill’s typewriter invention was ahead of it’s time because it was not until 1878 onwards that the first commercially successful typewriter was invented and marketed.  This was a typewriter manufactured by the American company, Remington.  Later IBM would come into the market and electric typewriters which offered things like proportional spacing, the quieter golf ball replacing individual keys and the ‘Correcting Selectics’ versions introduced a correction feature which allowed mis-typed characters to be ‘removed’, eliminating the need to use correction fluid.

Then along came computers, and word processors, and with that came the demise of typewriters.  And the end of the need for stationery cupboards full of carbon paper which, before the widespread use of photocopy machines, was the way that duplicate copies of correspondence and other documents were created.  Large firms used to have armies of typists and copy typists – those who simply retyped documents – but gradually, with the wider introduction of computers and indeed dedicated word processing computers along with electronic printers those armies of typists decreased.  The computer, word processor and electric printers began to eliminate many specialist typists and increasingly passed the job of typing up correspondence and reports to those who drafted those documents.

The next big leap in shifting typing work from dedicated, trained typists, was the advent of e-mail.  There was a period when fax machines began to replace the mail room.  Documents were sent around the world at high speed by fax machines which used the telephone network for communication.  However, this revolution didn’t last long; the Internet arrived and soon people were communicating by writing to each other through messaging systems from computer to computer.  This system evolved quickly into the e-mails system as we know it now, and my, how the world grasped this opportunity to communicate quickly and with the assumed certainty of written communication (I’ll go into the over-empowering of personnel and some of the disasters that have been caused by the assumption that because a message had been sent by e-mail by a company staff member that a contract had been created at another time).

E-mail messages and the way in which files of all types could be attached to them and sent in instantly changed the way that we work for ever.  Although there are still many specialist typing roles such as medical, legal and audio typist where the speciality often alludes to knowing a certain specialist vocabulary or specialist document layouts, the fundamentals of any typist job is just that, typing.  And nowadays everyone who works in an office or with a computer needs to know how to type if they are to get through their day’s work without undue stress from the typing part of their job.  Some people breeze through their workday with full ten finger touch typing, others have their own way of typing which produce varying levels of productivity and fatigue.

The manner in which people type is not altogether irrelevant to my topic of the future according to keypress analysis because the increasing study of keystroke dynamics and keystroke biometrics has led to interesting outcomes.  For example, if you receive an  e-mail which starts with ‘Hello Steve, ‘ you can obviously read the text but you don’t know, for example, how quickly or how slowly it was typed, or which Shift key or the Caps lock key which  the sender used to make the ‘s’ turn into the capitalised ‘S’.  You also don’t know if the sender typed any letters incorrectly first time and had to backspace to correct them, or the length of pauses between each key.  However, the keystrokes can be saved by keystroke logging and then analysed and one result of this analysis is that the sender’s style of writing can be identified with a high enough degree of certainty to allow the keypress data to be used as a biometric identifier and several patents have been filed on the subject.

It never occurred to me that my typing style could become a behavioural biometric which can be used as a confidence measurement to identify me.  A paper written by Dr. Manish Shrivastava and published in 2011referred to Keystroke Dynamics and password authentication using Keystroke Biometrics.  There is already a company, TypingDNA, who use typing biometrics to improve the security on computer systems and fraud prevention.  Will our typing performance become another level of biometric data that governments will want to collect from us?

Revealing the secrets of an individual's typing style

What other secrets does a database of keystrokes hold?  Could my keypstrokes be used to check my general health, or my current mood?  Could a log of my keystrokes, saved over time, be used to measure a decline in my mental acuity, or the onset of some pervasive disease?  Maybe the analysis of our typing performance, like as yet undiscovered benefits of certain plants and substances, will lead to great benefits in the identification of diseases, or of identifying personality traits with a high degree of confidence.  I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I’m pretty sure that if we build a big enough keypress database using enough people from all over the world, typing in different languages then some significant benefit for mankind will come out of it.

One such database project is the BSBL Infinite Keystroke Database which is being held and maintained by my company, Better Skills Better Life Ltd.  Everyone is welcomed to add to it by using the free typing testers and the trial or full versions of our other typing products– they’re fun to use and it’s remarkably easy to get carried away doing multiple One Minute Typing Tests in whatever language you fancy. You’re invited to provide some personal data about yourself; age, gender, whether right or left handed, that sort of thing, so that our data specialists have something work with, but you will never be specifically identified in the database except for providing you with an analysis of your own typing performance.

Try it and see.  The future belongs to us all and just maybe your keystroke data will one day help you and others in ways you never thought possible; just like people I sometimes didn’t really know have helped me.

About the author

Tony Rust is the Managing Director and Chief Product Designer of the Better Skills Better Life Ltd.’s range of Typing Testers, Typing Tutors and Typing and Language Tutors.  Tony’s expertise in typing skills and training goes back over 30 years to 1988 when he designed a typing tutorial for the then-groundbreaking hand held computer, the Psion Organiser II.  The product was called ‘The Finger Organiser’ sold worldwide and a proficient user of the typing method could achieve over 50 words per minute using just a thumb and three fingers.  Tony then went on to design the Fingers for Windows range of typing and typing and language products which he exhibited and sold in many language variants in many countries throughout the 1990’s.  These were designed from the outset to make the process of learning to touch type easy and quick, using a ‘3 Level System’ of practice.  He has designed and overseen the development of a wide range of software products including software for the Japanese company, Sharp, and has spent many years training people in the use of productivity software.  With all of these products he says that the key to real productivity is the ability to use the computer keyboard well.  Never one to settle for the status quo, Tony recently spent ‘three and a half happy years’ in China honing his martial arts skills at a Kungfu Academy and then a year and half on a Chinese Language course at Ludong University.  During this period, he also managed to find time to qualify – with Distinction - as a TEFL Teacher (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) with the Dublin based TEFL Academy. 


More about the author on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/tonyrust/


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