Citation for the published version:
Diaz, M., Ferrer, M. A., Ramalingam, S., & Guest, R. (2019). Investigating the
Common Authorship of Signatures by Off-line Automatic Signature Verification
without the Use of Reference Signatures. IEEE Transactions on Information
Forensics and Security. DOI: 10.1109/TIFS.2019.2924195
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Transactions on Information Forensics and Security
JOURNAL OF LATEX CLASS FILES, VOL. 14, NO. 8, AUGUST 2015 1
Investigating the Common Authorship of Signatures
by Off-line Automatic Signature Verification
without the Use of Reference Signatures
Moises Diaz, Member, IEEE, Miguel A. Ferrer, Soodamani Ramalingam, Richard Guest
Abstract—In Automatic Signature Verification, questioned
specimens are usually compared with reference signatures. In
writer-dependent schemes, a number of reference signatures are
required to build up the individual signer model whilst a writer-
independent system requires a set of reference signatures from
several signers to develop the model of the system. This paper
addresses the problem of automatic signature verification when
no reference signatures are available. The scenario we explore
consists of a set of signatures, which could be signed by the same
author or by multiple signers. As such, we discuss three methods
which estimate automatically the common authorship of a set of
off-line signatures. The first method develops a score similarity
matrix, worked out with the assistance of duplicated signatures;
the second uses a feature-distance matrix for each pair of
signatures, and the last method introduces pre-classification
based on the complexity of each signature. Publicly available
signatures were used in the experiments, which gave encouraging
results. As a baseline for the performance obtained by our
approaches, we carried out a visual Turing Test where forensic
and non-forensic human volunteers, carrying out the same task,
performed less well than the automatic schemes.
Index Terms—Off-line signature verification, Biometrics, No
reference signatures, Feature-distance matrix, Signature com-
plexity
I. INTRODUCTION
Awide variety of enterprises store and use paper docu-ments: delivery notes for transport companies, clinical
histories of hospital patients [1], receipts, payments, banking
transactions and legal documentation are just some examples
of daily activities involving the digitisation of documents. In
the majority of cases, these documents include a personal
handwritten signature.
It is often necessary to question whether the signatures
on a set of stored signed documents belong to the claimed
author of the signatures. Answering this question with any
degree of certainty would imply having access to the stored
reference signatures of the claimed author. Associating an
ID to a set of stored signatures is not always possible.
Among other reasons, asking for reference signatures may not
be convenient, for example, in the case of VIP customers.
Also, the storing of personal biometric data by a particular
M. Diaz is with Universidad del Atlantico Medio, Las Palmas 35017, Spain
E-mail: moises.diaz@atlanticomedio.es
M. A. Ferrer is with Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Las
Palmas 35017, Spain. E-mail: miguelangel.ferrer@ulpgc.es
S. Ramalingam is with University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, WD6 4UB,
UK. E-mail: s.ramalingam@herts.ac.uk
R. Guest is with School of Engineering and Digital Arts, University of
Kent, Canterbury, CT2 7NT, UK. E-mail: R.M.Guest@kent.ac.uk
organisation could be rejected by both staff and customers,
because of the existence of laws or regulations preventing
industrial operations from collecting and coding the signature
specimens [2], [3], [4]. Similarly, reference signatures may
not be available in dramatic scenarios such as terrorism cases,
where signed extortion letters are manually examined [5] to
decide whether the signatures are signed by the same person
or not. Also, determining if there is a single serial killer or
more than one criminal involved can be determined by manual
signature examination of signed notes left at the individual
scenes of several murders [6] but obviously without reference
signatures. The same applies in the case of other types of
crime, including fraud [7], [8].
The unavailability of reference signatures led us to a com-
pletely new scenario where a particular stored set of signatures
could be associated to the same author, without using any
reference signature. An adequate solution to this issue would
imply an advantage for the industry, which did not need to
store reference signatures from their customers. In such a case,
we ask the question: could the automatic signature verification
(ASV) field [9], [10] propose an automatic solution without
reference signatures?
Many developments in automated signature-based sys-
tems are often demonstrated in common benchmarks and
international competitions. In recent signature competitions
such as SigWiComp2013 [11], SigWIcomp2015 [12] or
TSNCRV2018 [13], off-line Automatic Signature Verifiers
(ASV) have been acknowledged to constitute scientific evi-
dence. Typically, both industrial and academic researchers in
such competitions evaluate their systems by solving challeng-
ing casework problems that require image-based or off-line
signatures.
Off-line ASVs tackle the dichotomous question of whether
or not a particular signature belongs to a claimed person [14],
after a comparison with reference specimens based on two
basic modes: writer-dependent (WD) and writer-independent
(WI) signature verification (SV) systems [9], [10]. The WD-
SV systems are based on a mathematical model for each en-
rolled writer [15], [16], [17], whereas, WI-SV systems develop
a single model for all writers [18], [19], [20]. It is worth
highlighting that WI systems approach the forensic application
model through computer vision and machine learning/pattern
recognition strategies.
Regarding to WD-SV systems, the literature includes a
number of proposals for off-line classification for genuine or
non-genuine signature testing. Some examples are the Support
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Transactions on Information Forensics and Security
JOURNAL OF LATEX CLASS FILES, VOL. 14, NO. 8, AUGUST 2015 2
Vector Machines (SVM) [21], [22], [23], Hidden Markov
Models (HMM) [24], fuzzy membership functions [25], ar-
tificial immune systems (AIS) [26], distance-based classi-
fiers [27], [28] or a combination of multiple classifiers based
on dissimilarity score measures [29], among others [9], [30],
[17].
On the other hand, WI-SV approaches commonly create
a single model trained with a pair of genuine-genuine and
genuine-forged specimens. These approaches can also create
a dedicated classifier for each person by adapting from a
universal background mode [31], [20]. A key advantage of the
designed WI systems is that, once the statistical models are
built, new users can be enrolled in the system and proceed with
classification, without altering the operation of the system.
Conversely, the same advantage is present when a previously
enrolled user leaves the system.
In WI-SV, authors used to fix some thresholds in the ASV
with a certain part of data and verify with another portion.
Some proposals include fixing acceptance thresholds [32]
or stability parameters with genuine samples [18], without
training a classifier. Also SVM and Multilayer Perceptron
(MLP) classifiers are used in this modality [33] as well as
SVM and a multi-layer neural network as bi-class classifiers,
as in [19]. More recently, effective performances can be found
by using deep learning methods in WI mode such a deep
convolutional neural networks in [34]. Another significant
proposal involves using an ensemble of classifiers, as discussed
in [35], [36].
In addition, there are approaches which combine WI and
WD schemes. Some contributions consider a challenging
scenario with WI feature extraction techniques. These consist
in learning a discriminant feature representation by using
third party signatures, not enrolled in the evaluated system
(e.g. [31], [37], [34]). This kind of hybrid system [37] was
used later in a WD classification stage. Another hybrid system
was effective in [38] where the authors extracted features
through WD scores of the SigNet-F representation [34] and
final results were obtained by a fusion of WI and WD
classifiers at score level.
Nevertheless, previous works assume that during the verifi-
cation of questioned signatures, there are typically five or ten
reference signatures available [18], [25], [29]. The originality
and central novelty of this work lies in the fact that we do
not have reference signatures in any case studied here for
verifying automatically the signatures. Instead, we have a set
of two, three, four or five signatures and we estimate whether
the same signer executed all of them. This implies a two-class
classification problem: the signatures of the set belong to the
same signer or do not belong to him or her.
A. Contribution
We presented a proof of concept of the idea of automatic
signature verification without reference signatures at the 51st
International Carnahan Conference on Security Technology
(ICCST-2017) [39]. The method proposed in [39] built a
squared matrix of similarity measures between the signatures
of the set. Heuristically, a thresholding operation was set up to
decide whether or not a set of signatures belonged to the same
writer. Following comments and suggestions from conference
delegates regarding the presentation of [39], and following
collaboration with new researchers and two years of further
work, the present paper proposes a significant step forward by
deeply exploring the off-line automatic signature verification
without the use of reference signatures.
Three competing methods are proposed in this paper to
address this problem. While the first method is an improved
version of the method introduced in [39], the other methods are
newly introduced in this paper. Given a set of signatures whose
common authorship is to be determined, the first method
calculates a score similarity matrix with measures between the
signatures of the set. A Least Square-Support Vector Machine
(LS-SVM) [40] is used to decide whether or not the score
similarity matrix belongs to the “all the signatures belong to
the same signer” class. The second method employs feature-
distance matrices for each pair of signatures in the set to be
verified. Thus, if we had a set with four signatures, we would
calculate six feature-distance matrices, one per pair. All these
feature-distance matrices are combined, and an estimation with
an LS-SVM [40] is taken with respect to common authorship.
The third and last method is an extension of the second
one, achieved by adding a complexity pre-classification of the
signatures, which has a positive influence on the final decision.
As a baseline for our approach, a visual Turing Test is con-
ducted with forensic and non-forensic volunteers. This allows
us to expose the difficulty of the automatic task discussed in
this paper with respect to human inspection.
The paper is broken down as follows. Section II describes
the databases used, which were modified to create sets of
signatures to evaluate their common authorship. Section III
introduces the three proposed methods to evaluate the common
authorship of a set of signatures without reference specimens.
The experimental protocol is detailed in Section IV, while
the experimental results of the different methods, as well
as a visual Turing Test, are provided in Section V. Finally,
Section VI concludes the paper.
II. DATASETS
In this paper, we evaluate our methods with four different
datasets. Each dataset contains sets of signatures. Some sets
comprise signatures belonging to the same author, whilst oth-
ers contain signatures from different authors, i.e., genuine sig-
natures and forgeries. These datasets of sets of signatures were
built by selecting signatures from public corpuses of handwrit-
ten signatures. Specifically, we devised four databases:
• Dataset DS1: Consists of sets of signatures selected from
the GPDS-881 Off-line signature corpus [41]. The GPDS-
881 corpus consists of 881 users with 21,144 genuine
and 26,430 forgeries in total. The image-based signatures
were scanned at 600 dpi with 256 grey levels and saved
in PNG. This corpus was collected in the Group of
Procesado De la Sen˜al (GPDS) in a Spanish University,
where specimens were acquired in a single session and
each person used their own ballpoint pen.
• Dataset DS2: Includes sets of signatures from the
MCYT-75 Off-line corpus [42]. The MCYT-75 corpus
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Transactions on Information Forensics and Security
JOURNAL OF LATEX CLASS FILES, VOL. 14, NO. 8, AUGUST 2015 3
TABLE I: Structure of each dataset used in this work. All
signatures were randomly selected.
# Signatures
per set
# Sets with only
genuine signatures
# Sets with gen-
uine and forgeries
# Total
sets
2 50 50 100
3 50 50 100
4 50 50 100
5 50 50 100
# Total sets 400
includes 75 signers from four different Spanish uni-
versities. The corpus includes 1,125 genuine and 1,125
deliberately forged signatures, acquired in two sessions.
All the signatures were acquired with the same ink pen
and the same paper templates. The paper templates were
scanned at 600 dpi with 256 grey levels.
• Dataset DS3: Is built with sets of signatures from the
Dutch Off-line signatures, used in a signature compe-
tition organised during ICDAR 2009 [43]. Specifically,
the available signatures consist of 12 authors, with 60
genuine signatures and 1,838 skilled forgeries in total.
The signatures were saved in PNG format at 600 dpi
with 256 gray levels. This corpus was collected by the
Department Digital Technology and Biometrics at the
Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI).
• Dataset DS4: This dataset selects signatures from the
Dutch Off-line signatures SigComp 2011 [11]. A number
of these signatures were also used in the signature compe-
tition organised in ICDAR 2009 [44]. There are 54 users
available, with 1,292 genuine signatures and 639 forg-
eries in total. The original corpus was developed under
supervision of forensic handwriting experts (FHEs) at the
Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI). Each image-based
signature was collected with the same paper template and
same ink pen. The images were saved as a PNG image
at 400 dpi in colour format.
All the datasets, DS1, DS2, DS3 and DS4, were designed
with the same structure. Each dataset contained 400 sets
of signatures. To ensure a balanced study and proportional
statistical results, these 400 sets were equally divided into sets
with all the signatures of the same signer (genuine) and sets
with signatures from different signers (genuine and forgeries).
At the same time, the 400 sets were uniformly distributed into
sets of two, three, four and five signatures. The distribution of
sets per database is shown in Table I. The signer of each set,
along with the genuine and forged samples used to make up
the set, were randomly selected.
III. EVALUATING THE COMMON AUTHORSHIP OF A SET OF
SIGNATURES
In the following, three methods for automatic off-line sig-
nature verification without reference signatures are proposed.
These are designed to tackle our central research question
of whether or not all the signatures of a set belong to the
same writer. The first method is based on a similarity measure
between all the signatures of the set under study. It is an
improved version of our past work [39]. The second method
uses an ensemble of features and distance measures. This
idea has been motivated by the effectiveness of ensemble
strategies [35], [36], [45]. A possibility for improving the
second method is by estimating the complexity of each
signature and creating different models, according to their
complexity category. Consequently, the third method is based
on the same feature-distance matrices of method 2, along with
the relevant complexity measures. Finally, from the matrices
that compare the signatures, a Least Square Support Vector
Machine (LS-SVM) is used to evaluate the common or non-
common authorship of the set of signatures.
A. Method 1: Similarity score matrix-wise method
This method compares all the signatures by means of a
similarity measure, resulting in a square matrix. The similarity
measure is obtained as a score produced by a statistical model
as follows: 1) for each single signature of the set, a statistical
model is built, and 2) a measure of similarity between each
signature and the statistical model is carried out. The statistical
model of each signature is built as follows: 1) the signature
is duplicated, and 2) the statistical model is trained with the
original and duplicated signatures.
To duplicate an off-line signature, a number of methods
have recently emerged. One of the purposes of duplicating off-
line signatures is to improve machine learning by introducing
synthetic intra-personal variability. In the context of off-line
signatures, several methods have been proposed to distort
the images. Mapping equations to a signature image [46]
or applying affine transformations [47] are the most popular
techniques for broadening the number of training samples.
In this work, we follow a cognitive-based distortion method
described in [16], [48]. This duplication model is inspired by
the motor equivalence theory [49], and proceeds to execute an
action such as handwriting. Apart from estimating the intra-
personal variability, one of the advantages is that it requires
only one signature as a seed, which is what we have in our
case.
Formally, let Ii be a signature i in a set, ∀i ∈ 1, . . . , n,
where n is the total number of signatures in a set. The signa-
ture Ii is duplicated m times, thus obtaining the duplicated
signatures Iˆi,c, with c ∈ 1, . . . ,m. In our case, we chose
m = 20. Hence, the model is trained with 21 signatures, which
is a reasonable number to train a statistical model, as suggested
in [16].
The statistical model of Ii signature was worked out follow-
ing [22], as follows: A basic version of local binary patterns
(LBP) and local derivative patterns (LDP) were extracted for
each signature Ii and Iˆi,c. These vector parameters were used
to train the generative model (Mi) based on a Least Square
Support Vector Machine (LS-SVM) [40] with a radial basis
function kernel [50]. The sigma and gamma hyper parameters
of the LS-SVM were calculated on the basis of a grid search
and a two-fold cross validation strategy. The sigma value was
searched on a grid of fifty values, logarithmically equally
spaced between 100 and 102, whereas gamma was searched
on a similar logarithmic sequence between 100 and 103. Once
the model (Mi) was built, we calculated the scores si,j for
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Transactions on Information Forensics and Security
JOURNAL OF LATEX CLASS FILES, VOL. 14, NO. 8, AUGUST 2015 4
Similarity
score
matrix
s1,1, s1,2, s1,3
s2,1,
s2,2,
s2,3
s3,1,
s3,2, s3,3
Ψs
Ψˆs
Model for
Signature 1
Model for
Signature 2
Model for
Signature 3
Similarity measure with: Sign. 1,
Sign. 2, Sign. 3
Similarity measure with: Sign. 1,
Sign. 2, Sign. 3
Similarity measure with: Sign. 1,
Sign. 2, Sign. 3
Training
Training
Training
Si
gn
at
ur
e
1
Si
gn
at
ur
e
2
Si
gn
at
ur
e
3
Duplicated Signatures
Duplicated Signatures
Duplicated Signatures
Fig. 1: Overview of method 1: similarity score matrix-wise
method used to evaluate common authorship. An example is
shown with a set of three signatures.
each signature (Ij) against the model (Mi). This procedure
was repeated for all n signatures in the set.
The scores si,j obtained denote the similarity measures.
These scores are then used for designing a squared similarity
score matrix of dimension n × n, which we denote by Ψs.
Figure 1 represents an example with a set of three signatures.
The method generates three generative models, Mi, and, from
each model, we test the initial signatures in the set. This leads
to three output scores for each model, nine being the total
number of scores si,j .
Some 95 % of the scores si,j are concentrated within the
interval (−1,+1), because of the use of the LS-SVM [40]. The
closer to or further from si,j is to the limits of the interval,
the clearer is supposed to be the classification. However, to
facilitate the discrimination between common authorship and
no common authorship classes, a non-linear transformation is
applied to the similarity score matrix Ψs, given as the result
Ψˆs. Specifically, we apply a displacement to the scores si,j
in Ψs by the following piecewise-defined function:
sˆi,j =
si,j +R1 if si,j > T1
si,j −R2 if si,j < T2
si,j Otherwise
∀{i ∈ (1, . . . , n), j ∈ (1, . . . , n)} (1)
where sˆi,j represents the transformed scores in Ψˆs, as is
shown in Figure 1. Motivated by the output of the LS-SVM,
the parameters used in this transformation were heuristically
set as: R1 = R2 = 1 and T1 = T2 = 1. It is worthy
highlighting that the transformation of Eq 1 has been adjusted
for a LS-SVM classifier. However, such a transformation is
also valid for classifiers that estimated posterior probability by
adjusting the parameters R1, R2, T1, T2 as well as saturating
the lowest and highest values at 0 and 1, respectively.
Similarity score matrices are shown to be effective in
characterising the common authorship of a set of off-line
sc
or
es
Matrix Ψˆs in a row
Fig. 2: Example of similarity score matrices, Ψˆs, from two
different sets of signatures. Matrix Ψˆs are represented in a
row for better visualisation.
signatures. Figure 2 shows two similarity score matrices from
two different sets. To allow a better visualisation of the
differences between them, matrices Ψˆs are represented in a
row. It is worth mentioning that the dimension of the matrix
depends on the number of signatures. Thus, a set with n
signatures results in a n× n matrix.
B. Method 2: Feature-distance matrix-wise method
In the previous method, the similarity between each sig-
nature pair is measured with a single score. This could be
considered as being too simple a measure for such a complex
problem. Method 2 improves the comparison between signa-
tures of the set since several measures are worked out between
each pair of signatures. Specifically, each signature Ii is
described by several different features F ki , k ∈ 1, . . . ,K, with
K being the index of the different features. To compare two
signatures Ii and Ij within the same set, different distances
d ∈ 1, . . . , D, are calculated between their features F ki and
F kj . Thus, for each pair of signatures, a feature-distance matrix
of dimension K×D, called FDij , is built. Figure 3 shows an
example of generated feature-distance matrices for a set with
three signatures.
Generalising, in a set of n off-line signatures, a mathemat-
ical combination of n signatures, taken in pairs (2 at a time),
a set of Cn2 =
(
n
2
)
=
n!
2!(n− 2)! , different matrices is built.
The dimension of each matrix is K × D, where in our case
K = 10, represents the number of features used to describe
the signature, and D = 15 is the distance between the features.
The ten features used are detailed as follows:
• Six features based on geometrical features [51] are cal-
culated. To that end, the signature is observed with both
polar and Cartesian grid maps. Their lengths were fixed
to 63 and 64 bins for polar and Cartesian features,
respectively. The polar-based features divide the signature
into normalised sectors. The difference between the two
radii that define a sector, the angle of the sectors and
the number of signature pixels in the sector are then
computed. The Cartesian-based features utilise a superim-
posed grid. The distance from the centre to the envelope
is then calculated for the horizontal and vertical features
as well as for the signature transitions in the grid.
• Two textural features [22] are also employed. These are
the local binary pattern (LBP) and the local derivative
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Transactions on Information Forensics and Security
JOURNAL OF LATEX CLASS FILES, VOL. 14, NO. 8, AUGUST 2015 5
Feature-Distance
matrix between
Signatures 1,2
Output:
FD1,2
Feature-Distance
matrix between
Signatures 1,3
Output:
FD1,3
Feature-Distance
matrix between
Signatures 2,3
Output:
FD2,3
Si
gn
at
ur
e
1
Si
gn
at
ur
e
2
Si
gn
at
ur
e
3
Fig. 3: Illustration of method 2: matrix obtained with the
feature-distance wise-method.
pattern (LDP). Each signature is divided into a 3×3 grid.
Each region is overlapped to extract the LBP and LDP
histograms. Both sequences of features are subsequently
reduced with a discrete cosine transform to meet com-
putational requirements, the LBP and LDP dimensions
being 256 and 168 values, respectively.
• Poset-oriented grid features [50]. The Equimass sampling
grid method is employed on a thinned version of the
signature. The dimension of this feature vector was 1280
bins. The features used are a representation of pixel
transitions using lattice-shaped probing structures.
• Shape context [52]. The edge of the signature is calcu-
lated. A log-polar histogram with twelve bins for the
angle and five bins for the radius is used. The number
of pixels found in each bin is stored and then used
as a feature vector of 256 values. Its use in signature
verification has recently been demonstrated [53].
We then make independent comparisons for each particular
type of feature. Such comparisons are performed using fifteen
distances, described as follows:
• Dynamic Time Warping [54]. This distance represents the
optimal elastic alignment between two sequences. The
warping path is calculated in order to reduce the sum of
Euclidean distances.
• Normalised Dynamic Time Warping. This is the distance
obtained from the previous distance, divided by the
warping path length.
• Minimum edit distance [55]. This dynamically calculates
the minimum number of operations needed to convert
one feature vector into another. The edit operations are
deletion, insertion and substitution of values into such a
feature vector.
• Hungarian method [56]. The matching cost between
two feature vectors is performed using the Chi-Squared
distance. The Hungarian method utilises a subtraction
technique to find the best assignment of elements that
minimises the total cost matrix.
• Eleven histogram similarities measurements [57]. Be-
cause of their simplicity and robustness in reporting
va
lu
es
of
m
at
ri
x
F
D
ij
Matrix FDij in a row
Fig. 4: Example of two different Feature-Distance matrices for
the comparison of two different pairs of signatures. Matrices
FDij are represented in a row for a better visualisation.
statistical results when two feature vectors are matched,
we used the following histogram-matching methods: in-
tersection function, Chi Squared distance, Jeffrey Diver-
gence, Kolmogorov-Smirnov distance, Hellinger distance,
Bhattacharyya distance, L1 or Manhattan norm and L2
or Euclidean norm. Additionally, the L1 and L2 norm
are applied to the cumulative sum of the feature vectors,
which define how the data grows along the elements of
the histograms. A pairwise distance in the form of a
matrix is also calculated between the features obtained by
means of a Chi-Squared distance. As proposed in [58],
we store the best match as the minimum value of such a
matrix.
Each comparison generates a feature-distance matrix FDij ,
where i and j refer to signatures from the set, which can either
come from the same or from different writers. Figure 4 shows
an example of these two types of feature distance matrices.
Their differences are better highlighted by representing the
matrices as vectors. In contrast with Method 1, the dimensions
of each matrix in this method are the same, independent of
the number of signatures to be evaluated within the sets. We
have a varying number of matrices, depending on the number
of signatures in the set.
C. Method 3: Feature-distance matrix with complexity method
Method 2 is expected to improve on Method 1 because the
comparison between signatures is more extensive. However,
method 3 includes a new characteristic in the comparison:
the complexity of the signature. It involves dividing the
entire problem into several sub problems depending on the
complexity of the signatures being questioned and developing
different strategies for each complexity level. This proposal is
reasonable, as it is well known that the quality of forgeries
depends on the complexity of the signature, among other
properties [9], [59], [60], [61], [62], [63].
For these reasons, the complexity of signatures has been
exploited in signature verification over the last ten years
because of its discriminating properties [9]. The complexity
of a signature can be defined as the difficulty in falsifying
a particular specimen [50], [64]. To estimate such level of
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TABLE II: Complexity features extracted from signatures.
Number Feature Description
F1 x size length in pixels of signature bounding box
F2 y size height in pixels of signature bounding box
F3 pixel percent percentage of bounding box pixels that are
inked (ink density)
F4 hole percent percentage of bounding box pixels that are
fully enclosed by ink
F5 number of components number of independent ink objects within
signature
F6 median column pixels median number of ink pixels in columns
within signature bounding box
F7 percent column empty percentage of columns with no pixels
within signature bounding box
F8 median row pixels median number of pixels in row within
signature bounding box
difficulty, different procedures have been proposed. On the
one hand, models developed by forensic document examin-
ers’ opinions have been adopted in the literature [59], [60].
Also, authors have pointed out that there are three theoretical
relationships known as complexity theory in [65]. In [66] the
authors propose to take into account the signature lengths,
the number of pronounced directional changes in the line, or
overwritings, the length of the pen-downs and complex pen
patterns. However, quantifying the complexity in signatures
remains an open challenge [50], although significant advances
have been recently made for on-line signatures [61], [62], [63].
In this work, to evaluate issues of complexity, eight separate
features that empirically reflect the human understanding of
static complexity were extracted from all genuine signatures
of DS1 - DS4. These features led to the evaluation of a
particular comparison of specimens which, through selection,
could lead to a more secure and robust evaluation of the
common authorship of a set. These features are shown in
Table II.
A k-means (k=3) [50], [60] clustering was applied to each
combination of features, from single features to all eight
features, resulting in 255 combinations. K-means was used
to investigate the optimal selection and divisions using these
features, with a complexity description applied retrospectively.
Thus, k-means was performed on z-normalised raw-data scores
derived from the features to ensure an unbiased clustering.
This is because linearities are present across all variables.
This was assessed using a scatterplot matrix across the eight
features. Three metrics were used to evaluate each k-means
clustering:
• Consistency: the number of individual subjects that had
all their signatures grouped in the same complexity
cluster. Good features (and combinations) would be those
where samples from an individual signer were consis-
tently assigned to the same group.
• Spread: a measure of the evenness of the sample distribu-
tion across each of the 3 clusters. If a feature results in an
even distribution of samples between the three complexity
clusters, the feature ranks highly. If all samples were
allocated to one cluster, with two single outliers forming
the other two clusters, this feature/combination would
result in a low ranking.
Feature-Distance
matrix between
Signatures 1,2
Feature-Distance
matrix between
Signatures 1,3
Feature-Distance
matrix between
Signatures 2,3
Si
gn
at
ur
e
1
Si
gn
at
ur
e
2
Si
gn
at
ur
e
3
COMPLEXITY
Ck
COMPLEXITY
Cj
COMPLEXITY
Ci
Output: FD1,2
Cij
Output: FD1,3
Cik
Output: FD2,3
Cjk
Fig. 5: Overview of method 3: feature-distance matrix with
complexity method.
• Correlation: the Spearman correlation between the k-
means grouping and the raw feature data. This me-
tric evaluates the ability of an ordinal feature to be
mapped into a complexity grouping rank (for example,
low complexity=group 1, high complexity=group 3). This
is calculated by finding the ranked correlation between
the assigned group and the raw feature data. A strong
correlation is present when, using our example, low
feature values are assigned to group 1 and high feature
values are assigned to group 3. We take the absolute
value of the calculated correlation coefficient to count as
a negative correlation (i.e. when low feature values are
assigned to group 3 and high feature values are assigned
to group 1).
Every combination of features shown in Table II was
systematically selected. For every combination of features, a
mean metric value for the feature set was separately calculated
for each factor (Consistency, Spread and Correlation) using the
scores across all test subjects.
The mean metric values were then separately ranked from
the best performing feature set, to the worst performing for
each factor. As well as evaluating each factor individually,
each of the three ranks for a particular feature vector was
summed. A rank-of-summed-ranks was calculated to show the
overall performance. In this ranking, a low number indicated
good performance across all three metrics. Table III shows the
winning feature vectors across three criteria: a) best single
feature by consistency, b) best single feature by rank-of-
summed-ranks, and c) best combination of features (either
single or multiple) by rank-of-summed-ranks.
The feature pertaining to the percentage of columns that
contained no ink pixels produced the best single feature
correlation, however, the grouping consistency within signers
and the spread of signatures within groups were not balanced
for this feature. The median column pixel count (F6) gives the
best single feature across all three factors when evaluating the
rank-of-summed-ranks. The best combination of multiple fea-
tures by rank-of-summed-ranks uses x size (F1), the median
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TABLE III: Complexity grouping analysis.
Criteria Consistency Score
(High = Best)
Spread Score
(High = Best)
Correlation Score
(High = Best)
Features Rank of Ranks
(Low = Best)
Single Feature Consistency 624 2395 0.653 F5 67
Single Feature Rank of Ranks 609 1060 0.892 F6 2
Winner - Lowest Rank of Ranks 611 624 0.481 F1, F6, F8 1
number of pixels in columns (F6) and the median number of
pixels in rows (F8).
By employing this lowest ranking to define the complex-
ity group assignment for each signature, the groups can be
generalized as follows:
• Group 1: Low-medium x size (F1), low-medium amount
of ink per column (F6) and, low-medium amount of ink
per row (F8).
• Group 2: Medium-high x size (F1), low-medium amount
of ink per column (F6) and, low-medium amount of ink
per row (F8).
• Group 3: Medium-high x size (F1), medium-high amount
of ink per column (F6) and, medium-high amount of ink
per row (F8).
Therefore, we assign a complexity level, Cτ , τ ∈ (1, 2, 3),
to each signature individually. With such a complexity
level, feature-distance matrices FDij between two sig-
natures can be found within the following six types:
C11,C22,C33,C12,C13,C23. Regarding the second method,
the feature-distance matrix, calculated with the complexity
method, gives a three-rank level of complexity along with the
corresponding feature-distance matrices. Figure 5 provides an
overview of this method.
D. Estimating the common authorship of the set of signatures
The estimation of the common authorship of the set of
signatures is similar in the three methods. In short, the
above matrices with the measures of comparison between the
signatures of the set are evaluated with a Least Square Support
Vector Machine (LS-SVM) classifier. This gives an output
score, which is used in deciding the common authorship of
the set of signatures.
In Method 1, the simplest of the three, the similarity score
matrix Ψˆs is tested with an LS-SVM to obtain a classification
score per set. As the dimension of the matrix depends on the
number of users in the set, several LS-SVMs are trained: one
for a set of 2 signatures, and another for a set of 3 signatures,
and so on, up to the maximum number of signatures (five)
considered in the sets.
In Method 2, we develop the mathematical combination
of Cn2 feature-distance matrices, FDij , in each set, with n
being the number of signatures in the set. In this case, all
the matrices are of the same dimension. Then, each FDij is
tested with an LS-SVM, and the LS-SVM being the same for
all the matrices. In this way, we obtain Cn2 scores. Several
statistical combinations (minimum, maximum and average) of
these scores are evaluated to get an output score of a set.
In Method 3, the procedure is similar to that of Method
2, but we train six LS-SVMs instead of just one. These six
LS-SVMs are built by taking into account the six previously
mentioned possibilities in terms of the three-rank complexity
levels considered in this work. Accordingly, as each FDij
matrix has a corresponding complexity level, the proper LS-
SVM is used for testing. Once we have the output score of the
Cn2 matrices of a set, the output score is obtained by the same
statistical combination that we use in the second method.
The LS-SVMs are trained with one partition of the dataset.
The details of the experimental protocol are given in the next
section.
IV. EXPERIMENTAL PROTOCOL
The objective of this section is to facilitate the replication
of the experiments. To this end, we use four datasets: DS1,
DS2, DS3 and DS4, as detailed in Section II. Each dataset
contains 100 sets with two, three, four and five signatures
for evaluation. In each case, 50 sets correspond to signatures
executed by the same signer and 50 sets with signatures
executed by more than one signer.
Two partitions are made in the datasets: i) the sets for
training, which use the half of the sets for training the LS-
SVMs, and ii) the sets for testing, which include the second
half of the dataset. Figure 6 illustrates the division of one of
our databases for the experimentation.
In Method 1, the similarity score matrix-wise method, the
dimensions of the matrices, Ψˆs, depend on the number of
signatures to be evaluated. As such, we train the LS-SVM
classifiers according to the signatures in the sets. For instance,
the sets for training are used to train an LS-SVM for sets
with two signatures. As positive samples, we use 25 matrices
from sets of signatures executed by the same writer and, as
negative samples, 25 matrices from sets of signatures executed
by more than one writer. The same procedure is applied to sets
with three, four and five signatures. In total, we design four
generative models. The remaining matrices generated in each
testing partition are evaluated with the corresponding model.
Upon completion, the output scores for the evaluation are
stored in the corresponding class to evaluate the performance
of the method.
In Method 2, the feature-distance matrix-wise method, we
divide all sets of a particular dataset into sets for training and
testing, independently of the number of signatures in the sets.
It leads to 50 × 4 = 200 sets in each partition. The main
reason is that the dimensions of all feature-distance matrices,
FDij , are the same, i.e. 15 × 10. As such, we train a single
LS-SVM with the feature-distance matrices from the training
partition. As positive samples, we use FDij from the pairs
than involve signatures from the same signer. Conversely,
as negative samples, we use matrices FDij from the pairs
that involve two different signers. In the testing partition,
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S
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T
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A
IN
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T
IN
G
Sets with 5 sign.Sets with 4 sign.Sets with 3 sign.Sets with 2 sign.
50 sets 50 sets 50 sets 50 sets 50 sets 50 sets 50 sets 50 sets
50
se
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Fig. 6: Dataset division into training and testing partitions for the experiments. This division is applied to all datasets (i.e.,
DS1, DS2, DS3 and DS4).
we obtain a score per set of signatures tested. Let Cn2 be
number of feature-distance matrices to test in a set. We then
obtain Cn2 scores after the classification. We study several
statistical combinations (minimum, maximum and average) of
these scores to get an output score of the set.
In Method 3, the feature-distance matrix with complexity
method, once again we divide all sets in the two partitions
mentioned above, with 200 sets in each partition. Similarly,
to the evaluation of the second method, the LS-SVM is
trained with feature-distance matrices FDij obtained from
pairs of signatures. As the third method provides the com-
plexity of the feature-distance matrices, we divide all feature-
distance matrices of the training partition into six groups,
which correspond to the six cases of complexities considered
in this work: C11,C22,C33,C12,C13,C23. Thus, we train
six LS-SVMs, according to the complexity of the feature-
distance matrices, FDij . Then, all 200 sets of signatures in the
testing partition are classified with the corresponding LS-SVM
model regarding the complexity of pairs of signatures. The
output scores of the sets are obtained by the same statistical
combination that we use in the second method.
In our case, all LS-SVMs perform a grid-search on the hy-
perparameters in the ten-fold cross-validation for selecting the
parameters in the sets included in the training partition [22].
The parameter settings that produce the best cross-validation
accuracy are used in each case.
The performance of all methods is evaluated using Detection
error trade-off (DET) graphs for each dataset, DS1, DS2, DS3
and DS4. To build the DET graphs, we calculate the False
Acceptance Rate (FAR) and the False Rejection Rate (FRR).
The former indicates the error in classifying a set as executed
by more than one person, i.e., genuine and forged signatures,
whereas the latter represents the error in classifying a set as
executed by a single person, i.e., with only genuine signatures.
To quantify the error, we use the Equal Error Rate (EER) and
the Area Under Curve (AUC) metrics.
Each experiment was repeated ten times, after randomly
choosing sets in the training and testing partitions. These
experiments were performed independently on each database.
Fig. 7: DET graph of Method 1 with DS1, DS2, DS3, DS4.
V. EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS
We aimed to validate the effectiveness and efficiency of
automatic evaluation with respect to the common authorship
of a reduced set of signatures. As such, the experiments were
conducted with the aim of addressing two parallel outcomes.
On the one hand, the experimental performance of the three
proposed methods was analysed. On the other hand, the human
capacity to decide if there is a single writer or more than one
writer for a set of signatures was also evaluated as a baseline
for comparison.
A. Experiment 1: Evaluation of the similarity score matrix-
wise method (Method 1)
This experiment allows evaluating the use of Support Vector
Machines with the similarity score matrices, which is one of
the improvements with respect to our previous work [39].
The experimental results are illustrated in Figure 7. They
are similar in all cases, when considering both EER and AUC.
Roughly, they are in the 21.20− 24.40 range for EER and in
the 82.17−88.41 range for AUC. In addition, to contextualise
them, Table IV shows a comparison of DS1 and DS2 with our
previous work presented in [39]. The same datasets, DS1 and
DS2, were used in both the previous paper and in this work.
The signature assessment in this work was carried out similarly
to our previous work, which was presented in [39], with the
main difference being the thresholding decision. In [39], the
threshold for deciding if a set of signatures was from the same
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TABLE IV: Comparison result of Method 1 with previous work.
DS1 DS2Method Classification EER AUC EER AUC
Previous work: Duplicated Signatures + Sim-
ilarity Score matrix [39]
Heuristically thresholding decision 27.02 78.81 25.21 81.40
This work: Duplicated Signatures + Similarity
Score matrix
LS-SVM models 22.30 83.71 18.50 88.41
(a) DET plot of DS1 (b) DET plot of DS2 (c) DET plot of DS3 (d) DET plot of DS4
Fig. 8: DET graph of Method 2 with all datasets. The score obtained from each individual set is calculated by the maximum,
minimum and average of the Cn2 scores of each set.
(a) DET plot of DS1 (b) DET plot of DS2 (c) DET plot of DS3 (d) DET plot of DS4
Fig. 9: DET graph of Method 3 with all datasets. The score obtained from each individual set is calculated by the maximum,
minimum and average of the Cn2 scores of each set.
writer or from more than one writer was set heuristically at
−0.1.
In contrast, in this work, the LS-SVM models were trained
with 50 % of sets, equally distributed in sets with only genuine
signatures and sets comprising both genuine signatures and
forgeries. The remaining 50 % of the sets were then used
for testing. Overall, we can conclude that this work is an
improvement over the results obtained in our previous work.
B. Experiment 2: Evaluation of the feature-distance matrix-
wise method (Method 2)
The performances obtained for the feature-distance matrix-
wise method are shown in Figure 8 for the four datasets.
The first observation regards the statistic used for fusing the
scores of each set. These results suggest that the most accurate
estimator in all cases for fusing the scores is the average. It can
be seen that, also in all cases, quantifying the average of the
scores produces a result that is more robust than the minimum
or maximum. Averaging the scores accounts for possible
outlier scores from the individual signature comparisons. In
addition to the EER, the AUC is provided. Regarding the
performance of DS1 and DS2, it can be seen that the current
results outperform those obtained with the previous method
and in the previous research. In contrast, the datasets DS3
and DS4 have different behaviours. DS4 reports performance
in line with DS1 and DS2, which suggests that this method
is independent of the database type. However, DS3 reports
a very competitive performance when the average estimator
is used. By observing its corresponding DET graph, with
between 0.6 % and 5.0 % of error when only one writer should
be recognised, we can see that the error in FAR is constant and
is approximately 0.6 %. This effect can be simply explained
and is due to the fact that only 60 genuine signatures were
available to design DS3, which reduced the variety of sets
designed with signatures executed by the same writer. Finally,
the results obtained lead us to conclude that Method 2 is a
slight improvement over Method 1 and, therefore, preferred
for our evaluation.
C. Experiment 3: Evaluation of complexity effects in the
feature-distance matrix-wise method (Method 3)
Here, we study the effect of considering three complexity
levels in off-line signatures. The statistical quantification of the
individual set of signatures by the minimum, the maximum and
the average of their Cn2 scores is also analysed. Figure 9 shows
the DET graphs for all datasets as well as the performance
obtained in terms of ERR and AUC.
Once again, it can be seen that averaging the scores is by far
the most accurate option to improve the final performances.
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(a) Set of two signatures written by
the same person
(b) Set of four signatures written by
more than one person
Fig. 10: Example of set of signatures
This observation is consistent with all experiments. For in-
stance, as is shown in Figure 9b, the results are a significant
improvement over other methods when the scores of a set of
signatures are averaged. Regarding the final performances, we
notice that Method 3 outperforms all results obtained so far.
The main difference here is the use of a pre-classification of
the signatures according to the complexity level. This leads
to a more accurate modelling of the feature-distance matrices
used in the training partition and more robust results.
D. Experiment 4: Visual Turing Test
In order to both stablish a baseline and analyse the human
performance in evaluating whether a set of signatures are
written by the same person or written by more than one person,
we designed a visual Turing Test [67] in a similar way to that
used previously [68], [69]. Our test consisted of 20 sets of
signatures: 10 sets with signatures written by the same person
and 10 sets with signatures written by more than one person.
The number of signatures in each set was randomly selected.
Figure 10 shows an example of a set included in the visual
Turing Test.
In order to have more examples, three visual Turing Tests1
were designed with different sets in each test, but maintaining
the distribution of ten sets written by the same writer and ten
sets written by more than one writer. The order of the sets was
randomly presented in the tests. Therefore, we had 60 sets to
be evaluated in total.
A total of 28 FHE and 301 non-FHE volunteers participated
in the experiments, and in each test, we collected more than
2000 decisions in total. As an on-line survey was used, we
collected responses from more than ten countries, including
Ecuador, Spain, India, Italy, Colombia, Poland, Argentina and
the UK. A seven-point Likert scale [70] was used to judge
each set, where 1 meant that more than one writer executed
the signatures in the set and 7 that a single writer produced the
signatures. A response of 4 represented a confusion decision.
Our method allowed us to calculate the False Same Signer
Rate (FSSR) and the False Multiple Signers Rate (FMSR).
FSSR means that the participant says that the same signer
produced the set, but more than one signer actually produced
it. FMSR denotes that participants believed that more than one
signer produced the set, but only one signer actually produced
it. Additionally, the Average Classification Error (ACE) was
calculated as ACE=(FSSR + FMSR)/2.
1Example of one designed visual Turing Test: goo.gl/eUndvc
Fig. 11: Performance of the human opinion through the visual
Turing Test and the three proposed automated methods.
In order to statistically evaluate the three visual Turing
Tests, a Kolmogorov-Smirnov and a Shapiro-Wilk test of
normality distribution were used over the sequence of FSSRs,
FMRSs and ACEs. As they were not normally distributed, a
Kruskal-Wallis test, which is a non-parametric test, was carried
out to evaluate the significant difference among them at a 0.05
significance level. We identified that the distribution of FSSR
and FMRS across the three tests was the same (p > 0.05 in
both cases). However, the null hypothesis was rejected when
we analysed whether the distribution of ACEs was the same
across the three tests (p = 0.002). In general, we can say that
the complexity of each test was similar within the FSSR and
FMRS results. We therefore, processed all the data together in
order to obtain a larger population and meaningful statistical
results.
In total, we obtained an FSSR of 42.32 %, an FMSR of
48.72 %, and an ACE of 45.52 %. It can be concluded that
detecting whether the sets were produced by the same writer
is a confusing task. It is worth noting that 50 % represents
a complete confusion. Moreover, an average response of 4.09
was received for sets with signatures written by the same writer
and 3.57 for sets produced by more than one writer. This is
another example of the confusion since 4 represented total
confusion.
Further statistical tests were conducted to study the corre-
lations between the age of the participants and ACE using
a two-tailed Pearson test at a 0.01 level of significance. As
the correlation coefficient was above 0, we observed that a
correlation does not exist between these factors.
As the machine-based experimental results were measured
using EER and DET graphs, we also calculated these metrics
for the visual Turing Test for forensic and non-forensic re-
sponses. Figure 11 shows these experimental results. We notice
similar performances, 41.43 % EER for an FHE response and
41.67 % EER for a non-FHE response. Furthermore, there is
no significant difference between FHE and non-FHE regarding
accuracy, since the distribution of their FSSR, FMSR and ACE
reported p > 0.2 applying both a Mann-Whitney U test and a
Kruskal-Wallis test.
Additionally, the 60 sets validated by human opinion were
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evaluated with the three proposed methods. Once again, the
most competitive performance was obtained with Method 3,
with EER = 34.00 % and AUC = 75.33 %, as can be seen in
Figure 11. As we are evaluating only 60 sets, the performances
of the three machine-based methods are similar because of
limited training and testing partitions found in the 60 sets.
Although this reduces the statistical significance of the results,
the performance obtained can validate the proposed methods
against forensic and non-forensic opinion.
Overall, in addition to once again highlighting the difficulty
of the task, we notice a lower performance with the human
decision than with the machine-based decision.
VI. CONCLUSIONS
In this paper, we address a real-world problem that has not
been previously studied in detail: that of verifying automati-
cally off-line signatures without reference signatures. It leads
to a new scenario in which it becomes possible to evaluate
whether a set of off-line signatures belongs to the same signer
or not. Among other examples, this problem can occur in the
case of a series of related crimes in which signed notes are
left by the perpetrator.
Three novel methods are proposed to automatically an-
swer this question. The first method consists of designing a
similarity score matrix per signature set for evaluation. For
populating this matrix, a signature duplicator [16] is used to
enlarge the number of available signatures and to train as
many generative models as possible as input signatures. In
the second method, each signature is described by a vector of
different features. A set of statistical distances is applied to
these features, and a feature-distance matrix is generated per
pair of signatures. This leads to a mathematical combination
of feature-distance matrices from the signatures included in
the set to be evaluated. The last method uses the concept of
complexity of the signature to design more efficient feature-
distance matrices. Three-ranked levels of complexity are used,
which lead to a combination of six complexity cases for
each set of two signatures under comparison. To evaluate
the proposed methods, we use Least Square Support Vector
Machine (LS-SVM) classifiers, which process either similarity
score matrices or feature-distance matrices.
The key novelty of this paper versus prior literature in
signature verification is that no reference signatures are avail-
able. For this reason, all three methods are configured by
obtaining an LS-SVM model for each method. Once the
models are established, the evaluation is carried out. We verify
the proposed methods by random sets of signatures from four
datasets of handwritten signatures. Additionally, the difficulty
of executing this task for human examiners is demonstrated
through a visual Turing Test as a baseline. We demonstrate
our practical contribution to solving the problem since our
automatic methods outperform the results obtained with the
forensic and non-forensic human evaluation.
This study, in our opinion, can be adapted to assist document
analysts in similar tasks. Likewise, this work can open the door
to the examination of new challenges in the field of biometric
automatic signature verification as well as the redesigning of
prior methods when no reference signatures are available.
VII. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
M. Diaz wishes to thank the Communication and Intelligent
Systems Research Team of the University of Hertfordshire
for hosting him during his postdoctoral visit in 2017, where
this article was developed. We also thank to Elias N. Zois
and Niclas Borlin for providing the poset-oriented features
code and the Hungarian method, respectively. This study was
funded by the Spanish Governments MIMECO TEC2016-
77791-C4-1-R research project and European Union FEDER
program/funds. Spanish Patent Reference (ES2633499).
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Transactions on Information Forensics and Security
JOURNAL OF LATEX CLASS FILES, VOL. 14, NO. 8, AUGUST 2015 13
Moises Diaz received his M.Tech., M.Sc., and Ph.D.
in engineering, and an M.Ed. degree in secondary
education from La Universidad de Las Palmas de
Gran Canaria, Las Palmas, Spain, in 2010, 2011,
2016, and 2013, respectively. He is currently an
Associate Professor at Universidad del Atlantico
Medio, Spain. His current research interests include
pattern recognition, document analysis, handwriting
recognition, biometrics, computer vision, and intel-
ligent transportation systems.
Miguel A. Ferrer received his M.Sc. and Ph.D.
from the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Madrid,
Spain, in 1988 and 1994, respectively. He joined
the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Las
Palmas, Spain, in 1989, where he is currently a Full
Professor. He established the Digital Signal Process-
ing Research Group in 1990. His current research in-
terests include pattern recognition, biometrics, audio
quality, and computer vision applications to fisheries
and aquaculture.
Soodamani Ramalingam is a Senior Lecturer in
the School of Engineering and Technology at the
University of Hertfordshire, UK, with expertise in
the area of Computer Vision and Machine Learning
(CVML), and more recently, in IoT Security. She
has been the research lead in CVML and has been
an active member of the research community. Her
research expertise includes Image Processing, Fuzzy
Logic, Biometrics and AI. She is a member of the
Biometrics Institute, UK and an IEEE member.
Richard Guest is Reader in Biometric Systems
Engineering at the University of Kent. His research
interests lie broadly within image processing and
pattern recognition, specialising in biometric and
forensic systems, particularly in the areas of image
and behavioural information analysis, standardisa-
tion and document processing. He has significant
involvement with biometric standards development
as Panel Chair of the UK BSI IST/44 Working Group
on Biometric Technical Interfaces and as UK Princi-
pal Expert to ISO/IEC in this area, representing UK
industrial, governmental and academic interests.