If the barrage of data breaches and hacks during the last few years has taught us anything, it’s that passwords alone provide a pretty weak security system.
The problem is that a string of letters and characters alone will always be relatively easy to hack or steal, especially through trickery like phishing attacks over email. And to make matters worse, many people use the same password for more than one account, making it even easier to get a hold on all kinds of valuable personal information.
But the good news is the tides are slowly changing and companies are increasingly beginning to experiment with emerging technologies that could potentially replace passwords.
Here’s a look at the four password alternatives that companies are working on now.
It sounds far-fetched, but researchers claim that computer brainwave-based authentication is a viable alternative for manual passwords.
By using sensors to capture electroencephalograms (EEGs), or the measurement of brain waves, computers can authenticate identity.
Most recently, scientists at the Binghamton University in New York recruited 45 volunteers and measured how each individual's brain responded to certain words. The researchers recorded each brain's reaction, which were all different. That information was then used by a computer system to identify each person with 94% accuracy.
The scientists at Binghamton call these password replacing brainwaves 'Brainprints,' but they aren't the first to propose the idea. In 2013 researchers at UC Berkeley School of Information conducted a similar experiment using a $US200 brainwave-reading headset and dubbed the term 'Passthoughts.'
Before then, other researchers had proven this could be done, but the technology to capture the necessary EEG data was expensive and invasive.
With EEG sensors becoming cheaper, it's a more viable option.
The Canadian company Nymi sells a wearable device that uses a person's unique heartbeat, or electrocardiogramn (ECG) measurements, to authenticate your identity.
The wearable device communicates via Bluetooth with other enabled devices like a smartphone or laptop to verify the identity of the wearer.
Nymi announced recently the device can also be used to make transactions. A user just places the wearable device close to the payment terminal while wearing the band to make a purchase.
Here's how it works: The band features two ECG sensors, one on the interior of the band touching the wrist and another on the outside of band. A user's ECG data is captured once they tap the sensor on the top of the band.
So after a user sets up their profile, all they have to do to verify their identity to unlock certain devices is tap the sensor on top while they are wearing it.
Facial recognition technology is slowly beginning to enter the consumer market for security purposes.
Microsoft, for example, introduced a new feature in Windows 10 called Windows Hello that allows users to bypass login passwords or passcodes by simply using their face as a password replacement.
However, the company does not just lets users take a picture with any web camera to verify their identity for Windows Hello.
PC makers have started including Intel's RealSense 3D camera into a small number of its devices to enable the feature. The infrared camera can sense depth, enabling a greater measure of security.
Google has also implemented facial recognition technology into Android devices that can unlock phones and tablets with a simple shot from a low-grade phone camera, but this is less secure than using a infrared camera.
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