Log-In Using Brainwaves Rather Than Passwords

Dennis Faas's picture

Researchers in California say they've developed a way to use brain signals as a form of digital security. It could solve several major problems with current password systems.

Existing log-in tools are limited by the ability of the user to remember a password. In turn, that tempts people to use simpler passwords that are easier for humans to guess or machines to figure out by trial and error.

The University of California Berkeley School of Information has been working on an alternative. Staff there believe reading a person's brainwaves represents a more reliable and secure system.

They've tried out the theory using a wireless Bluetooth headset. It's similar to a hands-free earpiece, but includes a sensor that can read electroencephalogram (EEG) signals from the brain, known informally as brainwaves.

Brainwave Patterns Hard to Replicate

Their idea is that whenever a person performs a specific mental action, it produces an EEG pattern that is not only unique to that set of thoughts, but is also unique to the individual. This means that even if somebody found out what a person's specific "passthought" was, they couldn't replicate it themselves.

During the testing, the researchers asked volunteers to each carry out a series of mental actions, repeating them several times. This produced a total of 1,050 EEG samples. The researchers say they could match them with an individual user correctly in 99 per cent of cases. (Source: mashable.com)

Though the accuracy was reasonably consistent across the different mental actions tested, the volunteers reported that some were more convenient than others. For example, they found thinking about performing a sporting movement difficult, as it left them wanting to move the corresponding muscles.

Silent Singing Could Replace Typing Password

However, the volunteers said they preferred trying to imagine counting objects of a specific color, or singing a song in their head. The researchers didn't test whether it would be possible for somebody else to breach security by "singing" the same song, but plan to do this in future studies.

The system would have some practical limitations. Although not too bulky to wear, the headset wouldn't be particularly portable. In a world obsessed with shrinking down the size of its mobile devices, that could be a problem.

The system would also cost somewhere in the region of $100 to $200, meaning it might be impractical to develop for widespread consumer use. (Source: nbcnews.com)

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