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Access Granted: Your Body is Your Password

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Access Granted: Your Body is Your Password

July 05, 2016
By Steve Anderson
Contributing Writer

The time of the username / password combination has come and, as far as many are concerned, gone. Passwords are cumbersome; either they're too simple and easily remembered, but also easily broken, or too complex and forgotten so frequently that they might as well be reissued every day. Biometrics is poised to change that, however, and though some forms of biometrics are well-known, others might surprise even the closest observers.

We all know about fingerprint and thumbprint scanning; Apple (News - Alert)'s iPhone has been running TouchID since 2013, and it wasn't even technically the first to offer fingerprint scanning. Biometrics, however, go far beyond that and into some very unusual areas. A combined effort from Proteus (News - Alert) Digital Health and Otsuka Pharmaceutical has given us a kind of edible capsule that can contain a small computer chip that derives power from interaction with stomach acid. The chip then transmits authentication processes outward, essentially turning our bellies into password-generating fobs.

Some biometric measures turn to a person's standard body odor, detecting the subtle changes in excreted chemicals that give every user a certain smell. It's currently got a 15 percent error rate, but that could improve fairly readily with time. Others have considered an electronic tattoo, using patches of electronic skin that can be overlaid on regular skin and used to interact with machines. There are some fairly major objections to that sort of thing, however, particularly for religious reasons.

There are even some systems in place designed to measure brain wave activity and use it as a unique identifier. It's achieved 97 percent accuracy so far, though inconveniences like the use of connected sensors and the application of electrolytic gel may get in the way. Finally, there's the human heartbeat, with companies like Nymi bringing out devices that can measure cardiac rhythms, and use these unique measurements as a means to identify one user from another.

Biometrics is a surprisingly rich field, because there are so many different possibilities to come with using certain portions of the human anatomy as a unique identifier. Thumbprints, iris scans, even voiceprints are already well-known, and as we've seen so far, there are plenty of other possibilities. No one ever forgets a thumb at home, or a heart, or an eye or vocal chords, so the chances of losing or “forgetting” such a password are remote at best. It's also generally difficult to spoof such a system, especially under the newest versions. Sure, we all remember the facial recognition systems fooled by a photograph, but that was years ago, and things have only improved since.

It may sound like the stuff of spy thrillers, but using our bodies to unlock computer systems isn't all that far-fetched. The notion of creating and remembering passwords may be on the way out, replaced by a simple scan of something we've always got on hand anyway thanks to biometrics.

Edited by Alicia Young

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