Oliver Korn

Oliver Korn

Master's Thesis

(Re-)Eye-dentification based on pupillometry data from eye trackers in a VR environment


Wolfgang Mehringer (M. Sc.), Dr. Dario Zanca, Prof. Dr. Björn Eskofier


12 / 2022 – 06 / 2023


The popularity of Virtual Reality (VR) and its increasing fields of application have grown over the past years. Besides its most well-known use for entertainment purposes (e.g., games), VR is, for example, currently used in psychological research [1], therapy [2] and for educational purposes [3]. This rise of VR applications goes along with the necessity of a secure but, above all, usable authentication process within the virtual environment [4]. For example, if users were forced to use conventional log-in mechanisms (e.g., a physical keyboard), this would harm the user’s perceived presence within VR by either removing the VR-Headset or utilizing temporary see-through to circumvent the blocked but required visual feedback [5]. Therefore, three different VR-authentication approaches are currently proposed and researched: Knowledge-based, biometric, and multi-modal authentication [6].

The most predominant one, knowledge-based authentication, requires a PIN or an alphanumeric password for access control. While being a familiar log-in scheme for many users, this approach is relatively slow, requiring a more unfamiliar interaction than a physical keyboard, and is prone to shoulder surfing attacks. The latter is because the VR Headset fully blocks users’ sight, which enables an adversary to observe the entire procedure [6, 7].

Biometric authentication schemes for VR applications, in contrast, offer a high level of security, especially being robust to shoulder-surfing mentioned above attacks. In theory, this is achieved by utilizing individual user characteristics data, measured by corresponding built-in or plug-in sensors and trackers (e.g., EEG, body movements, and eye-tracking data). However, user identification and validation based on biometrics alone require a high classification accuracy to prevent false positives and impersonation attacks. This is why numerous approaches combine more than one authentication technique, hence multi-modal authentication (also named ”soft-biometrics”). By using multiple models, the approach can improve on last-named accuracy and security. However, a low acceptance of a partial scheme might have a bad impact on the combined one [6, 8, 9].

Gaze-based authentication can be an example of such a soft-biometric scheme by combining biometric- and knowledge-based elements. This is made possible by eye trackers significantly improving over the last years while evolving into more and more affordable (consumer) technology. This approach aims to authenticate the user based on the tracked eye gaze, e.g., measurements of eye saccades using the eye tracker while observing a given stimulus. Such a stimulus can be the task of entering a password by looking at the PIN pad, which also solves the observational attack issue [6, 10, 11]. However, entering information by active fixation does not scale well with password length because you often accidentally produce a wrong input (known as ”midas touch problem”) [12]. That is why a lot of current research was put into personal identification based on sampled eye-tracking data alone. Typical state-of-the-art approaches are tracking personal areas of interest of the subject in a given picture, fixation and scan-path analysis of a given stimulus (e.g., a page of text), eye-gaze velocity while following a moving stimulus or tracking of oculomotor features [8]. These solutions have in common that the test subjects were given a specific task in advance and then had their ocular features tracked based on this task. While some of these approaches performed well for classification and identification, they all relied on active decisions based on the given stimuli. However, it has been proven that people’s behavior changes depending on the time of day. Hence scheduling of the user study respectively data collection has an impact on the achieved results [8, 13].

Another promising ocular feature being explored in the given domain are pupillometric features, e.g., pupil-size fluctuations [8, 14]. Fluctuations of pupil size as a response to a specific stimulus correlate with high-level cognition processes, which is why these are capable of being utilized for user classification and identification processes. However, many state-of-the-art methods are based on stationary eye trackers attached to conventional screens, which require controlled conditions to minimize the stimulation of the eye by the surroundings and limit presentable stimuli to a 2Dspace [8, 14, 15].

Therefore, the proposed work builds on the existing research using the benefits of a controlled 3D virtual environment for data acquisition utilizing an eye tracker built-in to the VR-Headset. Through the obtained data, machine learning methods (e.g., a neural network model) are used to investigate the potential of the desired classification and identification based on pupillary data alone.

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