Smartphones, USB Sticks Replacing Passwords: Google

Dennis Faas's picture

If you have trouble devising and then remembering complex, secure passwords for your many online and offline accounts and services, Google may soon provide you with an attractive solution. The search giant is reportedly investigating physical password devices, including objects like USB cards and smartphones.

In a recent research paper submitted to the IEEE Security & Privacy Magazine, Google says it's currently examining the practical application of 'passdevices,' its name for physical objects that can be used to enter protected virtual domains.

Making Passwords Easier to Manage

"We're focused on making authentication more secure, and yet easier to manage," Google noted in the report. "We believe experiments like these can help make login systems better." (Source:

Google's research on this subject involves a pilot project where USB cards -- which it calls 'Yubikeys' -- are tied to passwords. Rather than storing any passwords on your computer or the cloud, they would be stored on a physical device.

Google says such passdevices could take other forms, as well.

"We'd like your smartphone or smartcard-embedded finger ring to authorize a new computer via a tap on the computer, even in situations in which your phone might be without cellular connectivity," Google noted in its report. (Source:

Special Chip Could Make Smartphone a Passkey

Observers like the idea of embedding special chips in smartphones, allowing these devices to serve as passkeys. Instead of keying in a password, you could simply swipe your iPhone, Android device, or BlackBerry on your laptop and access its operating system.

You might not even be required to swipe such a device. Google says that simply carrying a specially-equipped smartphone could allow access to a PC or vital programs, perhaps even an email service.

Similar technologies have been used in the automotive industry for years. Carmakers have long since introduced keys that drivers can keep in their pocket or handbag, and yet enter a locked vehicle and start its engine.

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