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Surprising Science

‘Brainprints’ May Replace Passwords in the Future

Brainwaves may be the future of account security, according to researchers. But it will be a while before it comes to the consumer market.

People dream of the day when they’re no longer burdened by the question: What was my password?

The fingerprint reader brought hope, and was thought to be our champion against having to remember our passwords, securing our accounts with a biometric characteristic we carry with us every day. But this security option has been found to be a weak way to secure accounts and protect devices from nefarious individuals for a number of reasons.

However, science has brought us a new champion that may yet alleviate the memory taken up by recalling our passwords. It’s called brainprint. The technology works by identifying how a person’s brain reacts when they read certain words, giving users a unique signature based on their brainwaves. Researchers from Binghamton University observed the brain signals of 45 volunteers as they read a series of 75 acronyms, like “FBI” and “DVD.” They tuned their instruments to the region of the brain associated with reading and recognizing words to see how each person’s brain reacted.

The researchers found that each participant’s brain had a different reaction when reading the acronyms — unique enough that the computer system could identify each user with 94 percent accuracy.

Sarah Laszlo, assistant professor of psychology and linguistics at Binghamton University and co-author of the brainprint study, believes brain biometrics could be the solution developers have been looking for — a secure, accessible way to validate accounts that cannot be replicated or stolen the same way a retina scan or fingerprint can. What’s more, Laszlo suggested in a press release that there’s even a “reset” feature that can accompany brainprints when hackers finally catch up and find a way to replicate them.

“If someone’s fingerprint is stolen, that person can’t just grow a new finger to replace the compromised fingerprint — the fingerprint for that person is compromised forever. Fingerprints are ‘non-cancellable.’ Brainprints, on the other hand, are potentially cancellable. 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.”

Zhanpeng Jin, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and biomedical engineering, has some bad news for consumers: The future of brainprints won’t be available for mass-production on devices for quite some time.

Jin explained the intended purpose of this technology:

“We tend to see the applications of this system as being more along the lines of high-security physical locations, like the Pentagon or Air Force Labs, where there aren’t that many users that are authorized to enter, and those users don’t need to constantly be authorizing the way that a consumer might need to authorize into their phone or computer.”

Read more at EurekAlert!

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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