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Could Your Brain Waves Replace Your Passwords?

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In today’s internet age, everyone is required to memorize a handful of passwords, each with their own set of numbers, symbols, and capital letters. Or, if you’re not very internet secure, you use the same password for 7 or 8 different sites. Imagine if your thoughts were all it took to log on to a secure system. Recent research from Binghamton University suggests this may be the future of password security. This research, which is similar to brain wave research at Berkeley, was explained in a press release from the University.

“In “Brainprint,” a newly published study in the academic journal Neurocomputing, researchers from Binghamton University observed the brain signals of 45 volunteers as they read a list of 75 acronyms, such as FBI and DVD. They recorded the brain’s reaction to each group of letters, focusing on the part of the brain associated with reading and recognizing words, and found that participants’ brains reacted differently to each acronym, enough that a computer system was able to identify each volunteer with 94 percent accuracy. The results suggest that brainwaves could be used by security systems to verify a person’s identity.”

Although 94% accuracy is not yet at the level this high-security technology is aiming for, researchers hope that can be improved upon. The technology has promising applications. Sarah Laszlo, assistant professor of psychology and linguistics at Binghamton University, explained one way in which this technology is more useful in high security.

“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.”

So what applications will this technology really have? Zhanpeng Jin, an assistant professor at Binghamton University said, “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.” But perhaps this isn’t the only application for this technology. PayPal has been looking at “natural body identification” techniques such as capsules powered by the users stomach acid. Perhaps this could be an alternative. Or maybe, as suggested by Technology Blogger and Managing Editor Odipo Riaga, these Brainwave Passwords could replace Passports for international travel. With this system, forgery would be much more difficult.

Whatever applications this technology holds one thing is clear: mind-reading machines are not just science fiction anymore.

    Written by Kay Broughton

    Kay is a student assistant with the SUNY Office of New Media. She is a University at Albany undergraduate working towards a double major in English and East Asian studies with a double minor in communications and film.

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