NYIT Student Research. PHOTO: Cybercrime Magazine.

NYIT Cybersecurity Research: Is Activity Recognition The Future of Biometrics?

What’s cooking in New York Institute of Technology’s Entrepreneurship and Technology Innovation Center

Steven T. Kroll

Northport, N.Y. – Jun. 6, 2019

Sometimes minor situations lead to significant events — like attending one class and then researching cell phone security for billions of people.

“I’ve always liked solving problems,” says Seth Levine. “I’ve always liked figuring out what the real problem is, getting all the background resources, figuring out a plan, and going through it.”

A master’s student in the computer science program at NYIT, Levine is looking to use his degree to start up the next big trend in technology, as well as develop cybersecurity biometrics.    

NYIT’s computer science program is the perfect fit for Levine. The curriculum offers multiple areas of specialization such as software engineering, computer security, databases, information security, and artificial intelligence. It’s home to the Entrepreneurship and Technology Innovation Center — 8,000 square feet of state-of-the-art labs for businesses, students, and faculty to come together and generate fresh ideas and new technologies for the future.

At the cutting edge of cybersecurity, NYIT hosts an annual conference, held at the Manhattan campus, with experts from business, government, and academia addressing the latests trends in cybersecurity. Shamla Naidoo, global CISO at IBM, gave last year’s keynote. (See our video interview with her.) 

Between finishing his master’s thesis, working as a research assistant, and winning hackathons, Levine has his hands full — and that’s the way he likes it. A week before graduation, he submitted his thesis to the European Symposium for Research in Computer Security with plans to publish it in an academic journal.

Levine is not your typical computer science graduate student. In fact, his academic background varies from studying anthropology, psychology, and technology at the University of Pennsylvania to founding two startups.

“I was interested in studying neural networks of the brain,” Levine says about his undergraduate major.

His entrepreneurial spirit is what ultimately led to his decision to pursue graduate education. The first startup created a way for students to use their college IDs at food trucks that accepted only cash.

“The second startup had a lot of potential, but I wanted a better understanding of the tech side,” says Levine. “In order to lead the tech side of the project, I wanted to know all the in’s and out’s of the software engineering process.” That’s when he enrolled at NYIT.

On the first day of a biometrics class, Dr. Kiran Balagani approached him with an invitation to be a research assistant on a project, co-investigated with Dr. Paolo Gasti. The research focuses on biometrics in smartphone security, though this is not your typical fingerprint and facial recognition. It involves using activity recognition such as body movement, the way you hold your phone, and how you type.  

“Seth has been working on the authentication algorithms used in our project,” says Dr. Gasti. “He used data collected in our lab from about 60 subjects to fine-tune machine learning algorithms used for authentication.”

Levine’s contribution determines the exact moment when security authentication should kick in. “I created a machine learning pipeline to identify those events,” says Levine. “It is used to improve smartphone security.”

For now, the researchers will publish their findings in an academic peer-reviewed journal. There are no commercialization plans yet, as this is only an initial step toward determining the feasibility and efficiency of this type of software. However, Dr. Gasti says his team is open to speaking with any company about their work.

“If this is adopted by Google or Apple,” says Dr. Gasti, “this can help billions of people.”

Levine’s master’s thesis morphed out of his involvement with the research project. He’s studying “artificial neural networks and using deep learning to figure out different ways of how we interact with things and recognize certain behaviors.”

There are many options after graduation for a student like Levine. He plans to go into industry at an established company for a period of time or even work at another startup. However, his curiosity leaves the possibility for a Ph.D. in the future.

On his way out of the interview, Levine had some parting words of advice for potential cyber fighters.

“Cybersecurity is an amazing field. Don’t be scared by the terminology — cybersecurity and computer science. You can do this if you’re willing to work hard and you’re interested in it. Don’t put up barriers where they don’t belong.” 

Steven T. Kroll is a public relations specialist and staff writer at Cybercrime Magazine.