Will Our Brainprints Replace The Need To Memorize Passwords?


Lydia Dishman

June 12, 2015

Unless you are like Nasty Gal’s founder Sophia Amoruso, the passwords you use to access your email and the endless other accounts you need for work aren’t infused with intention. With increasing security requirements, it’s likely your word/number combinations are becoming even less memorable. But new research suggests it may not be long before you won’t need to memorize passwords.

“Brainprint,” a published in Neurocomputing, reveals that the brain’s reaction to certain words could be a unique identifying code—like a fingerprint—that could eventually replace passwords.

In a small experiment, the researchers hooked up an EEG to the scalps of 45 volunteers and measured their brains’ signals as they read through a list of 75 acronyms that included FBI and DVD. The word-recognition response differed so much between each participant that a second experiment using a computer program could identify each one with 94% accuracy.

It’s not enough to feel totally secure, but promising enough to hint at the future of securing sensitive information. Especially given that monitoring brain activity as a means of verifying identity has been tested since 2007.

The advantage of using such a biometric system is that it can be used for continuous verification, New Scientist points out.

Passwords or fingerprints only provide a tool for one-off identification. Continuous verification—by face or ear recognition, or perhaps by monitoring brain activity—could in theory allow someone to interact with many computer systems simultaneously, or even with a variety of intelligent objects, without having to repeatedly enter passwords for each device.

As Hollywood has illustrated, it’s simply a matter of cutting off a finger to appropriate that person’s identity. “Brainprints, on the other hand, are potentially cancellable,” said Sarah Laszlo, assistant professor of psychology and linguistics at Binghamton University and co-author of the study, “So, in the unlikely event that attackers were actually able to steal a brainprint from an authorized user, the authorized user could then ‘reset’ their brainprint.”

Until now, brain signals have been a challenge to parse. This experiment leaped over the hurdle by focusing on the brainwaves from the specific area that reads and recognizes words. The signal is therefore clearer and easier to measure.

The drawback, so far, is that the brain signal is still not as accurate as scanning someone’s iris or fingerprint, and initially requires sticking diodes on your head in order to get a read. That’s ok, according to Zhanpeng Jin, assistant professor at Binghamton University and coauthor of the study, because brainprint isn’t going to be mass-produced any time soon. He says the researchers envision its use at places such as the Pentagon, where the number of authorized users is small, and they don’t need to be continuously verified the way you do to access your mobile device or email.

Better keep your memory sharp, at least a little while longer.

This article was written by Lydia Dishman from Fast Company and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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