McAnulty start-up gets DARPA funds

By Anthony Meier | The Duquesne Duke

The McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts’ first start-up company, Juola & Associates (J&A), received nearly $700,000 in funding on a subcontract from the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) due to its specialization in stylometric software that verifies authorship of handwritten and typed text.

According to Patrick Juola, associate professor of Computational Science and Mathematics and CEO and founder of Juola & Associates, this software provides authorship verification which involves identifying not only who, but also the characteristics of the specific person in relation to his or her writing.

“What we do basically is look at language and we tell you, based on writing style, who wrote it or something about the person who wrote it,” said Juola, who has been developing the technology for over a decade.

Patrick Brennan, president of Juola & Associates, said the company’s software normally focuses on analyzing finished documents.

“Most of the time when we are doing attribution or verification, it’s on finished documents,” Brennan said. “We have something that somebody wrote and it’s in a final form and we can compare it against other finished documents to confirm whether or not that person is the author or not.”

Brennan described the technology being developed for DARPA as “substantially different from what we have done in the past.”

“What makes this special is the fact is we are looking at streams of text data,” Brennan said.

Using streams of text data, Brennan said the new technology is analyzing unfinished text in real time to identify a user.

Juola said DARPA is interested in creating “biometric technology to authenticate a person at a computer.”

“This isn’t really a forensics problem; it’s a security problem, even though both are closely related,” Juola said. “The idea is if I sit down at your computer and start sending e-mail, I’m not going to send e-mail like you do. The computer should be able to say, ‘Wait a minute, he is the wrong person.’”

Brennan said the process is still in its first phase and said it should take about eight months to complete the first stage.

“We have done three months of data gathering, which basically entails bringing temporary workers in and having them work … in order to generate data [through typing],” Brennan said.

Brennan also said they have now moved on to getting the technology to work with the previously generated data streams.

“We are trying to figure out what techniques work best to determine authorship of this free form stream of data,” Brennan said.

Once that is figured out, the Juola & Associates team will send it to a team at Drexel University, who is the prime contractor and partner with J&A in this project, to test the software and find any faults.

“This isn’t really a forensics problem; it’s a security problem.”

Patrick Juola
Juola & Associates Founder

Added Brennan, “Basically we are going to self-build on this red-team, blue-team sort of structure to get the best techniques in phase one.”

Duquesne and a grant of over $1.6 million from the National Science Foundation in 2010 helped get Juola & Associates operating as a start-up that led to opportunities like the one with DARPA.

“[Duquesne] had a huge role in creating the start-up,” Juola said. “The idea was Duquesne would put some facilities in to create an environment to do the basic research and then the applications of the basic research would happen externally through the company.”

Alan Seadler, associate academic vice president for research, said Juola has done a lot of “outstanding research” with the University and described the assistance as “our way of helping.”

“The University very much wants him to succeed and have the company grow,” Seadler said.

He also said he hopes the technology will eventually get commercialized.

Seadler said Duquesne tends to help sponsor one start-up a year in various areas of study, but it does not mean the University does not support the idea of finding more.

“It’s something that is always said and encouraged,” Seadler said.

He said start-up companies are a useful “vehicle of using the knowledge at the University to help the economy.”

Juola said he thinks his company’s involvement with an agency such as DARPA will have a positive impact on the University.

“Even though Duquesne isn’t directly involved with the research, it is closely enough tied that it kind of helps put Duquesne on the map for some very high visibility, important projects,” Juola said. “Essentially this is like giving Duquesne a chance to play in the major leagues.”