Body Parts As Passwords

Is Biometric Authentication Only A Heartbeat Away?

We’ve talked about biometric authentication protocols for many years now and a number of systems are available and working today. Some of the methods currently available are: Facial Recognition Fingerprint scanners Hand geometry scanners Retina and Iris scanners Voice Analysis

Body Parts Become Passwords:
Checking a user’s body parts to authenticate access to your smartphone or computer system might soon take another leap forward.

A new wave of wearable biometric security devices is going beyond facial recognition and eye-scan technologies to detect the unique physical characteristics inside your body. The breakthrough: Cardiac rhythms, finger veins and other internal biological signatures hold a wealth of differentiating features that may someday replace passwords and fingerprints, providing a sophisticated and innovative approach to security.

In short, the hardware—such as bracelets and smartphones—will simply become the vehicle for secure apps that authenticate a user’s anatomy. You won’t have to wear your heart on your sleeve, just a heart monitor on your wrist. 

More Than Skin Deep
The Nymi Band, for example, senses the wearer’s heart rhythm and compares it to a stored record. A heartbeat that matches the record unlocks a smartphone or computer. Nymi’s maker, Bionym, a startup out of the University of Toronto, says its heart-monitoring bracelet is more convenient than memorizing passwords and juggling coded security cards. The technology, it suggests, could be used in payment systems and other aspects of the app economy. MasterCard has already invested in this technology.

Other companies are working on authentication that relies on a user’s internal biology, although many are still in the research labs; commercial use may be years away. AT&T has created a system to send an electro-acoustic signal through bone or skin to produce a “body signature,” then compare it to a database of signatures to grant or block access. EMC, the world’s largest provider of data storage systems, is also working on a technology that authenticates users with facial and pulse data, factoring in circadian rhythms and adjustments for age.

Is Biometric Authentication a Heartbeat Away? - inline 2Privacy Concerns
Although body parts show promise as security vectors, companies that want to authenticate employees or customers through their internal organs have to watch out for technological limitations and legal issues. Privacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation warn that biometrics used improperly are a unconstitutional menace to privacy.

Devices measuring internal biometrics may be harder to fool than those that rely on external features that can be altered, such as faces and fingerprints, but we won’t know until mass rollouts occurs just how safe and secure they really are.

We’re just at the cusp of these emerging technologies. In order to succeed, the technology must offer some improvement on what already exists. Right now, relying on internal organs for authentication isn’t less expensive, more accurate or more efficient than using established products that rely on eyes, faces or fingerprints. And some of these older systems are “pretty entrenched”. These new techniques will have to find a niche to get the ball rolling. Until that happens, despite their promise, emerging biometric developers are finding it difficult to get a foot—or heart or vein—in the door.

Check out the Nymi Biometric Band here:

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