By Calvin Palmer
Research being carried out in America by a professor at Newcastle University could track down pedophiles targeting children online by the way they use their computer keyboard.
Professor Roy Maxion’s research at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, is investigating ways of determining the age, sex and culture of someone using a computer keyboard within 10 keystrokes by monitoring their speed and rhythm.
Former Northumbria Police detective chief inspector Phil Butler believes the technology could be useful in tracking down online fraudsters and pedophiles.
Butler, who heads Newcastle University’s Cybercrime and Computer Security department, said: “Roy’s research has the potential to be a fantastic tool to aid intelligence gathering for crime fighting agencies, in particular serious and organized crime and for those tracking down pedophiles.
“If children are talking to each other on Windows Live or MSN Messenger, we are looking at ways of providing the chat room moderators with the technology to be able to see whether an adult is on there by the way they type.”
Butler said the technology could also be used to prevent convicted sex offenders committing further crimes.
He said: “As part of a sexual offences prevention order, courts currently have the power to ban a sex offender from using a computer.
“With this technology the courts could force the offender to provide an example of their typing as a way of ensuring they don’t use a computer.”
Newcastle University is planning to submit a proposal to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to fund further research.
Butler said the technology could also be used to prevent fraud at devices such as cash machines.
“We’d like to look at various adaptations of the research for use in law enforcement, forensics and for companies trying to avoid fraud,” he said.
“We have also had interest from the private sector,” he added. “It is keen to see whether this technology can be used as an additional tool for identity verification, such as in online banking.”