Physical Passwords: Why Using Your Body for Access Is Coming to a Device Near You

In a world where passwords and PIN codes get jumbled and forgotten people are always looking for new ways to keep private information secure and memorable. The ideal might be to let our smartphones keep all those codes securely and send them out when they are needed. But that means broadcasting them through the ether which is always subject to risk.


Doors and Devices

At present, there are not many devices that work by receiving a secure code from a smartphone at a distance (unlike near-field communication used by Apple Pay for instance). A significant group of devices which do includes medical monitors and sensors. Insulin pumps, for instance, can be set to act on an instruction received from a phone signal, more conveniently than requiring the patient to find and activate the device physically.

Some smart door locks also can open on receiving a code sent from a phone or mobile device. It may not be a very common feature of life at the moment, but that sort of security probably may have a future, and it could be that one day cars will have an unlocking system that does not even require the driver to be carrying a key.

As with so many aspects of new technology, uses will undoubtedly develop if there is a value in them which is apparent to customers. After all, until computer gaming took hold, no one would have realized the scale of the market for the sort of quality now offered by the best gaming monitor.

One drawback is that the broadcast signal by Bluetooth or WiFi travels some distance and may be available to interception and abuse. Medical equipment manufacturers Johnson & Johnson have already reported a security issue with their insulin pumps.

Secure Body Transmission

What if the code could be sent from your phone to the receiving device without going through the atmosphere? There would be no way for it to be intercepted.

Such a possibility has already been explored by researchers at the University of Washington. Using a fingerprint reader on a phone or touchpad, the device not only authenticates the user but then uses the finger to send a signal at a frequency of less than 30 megahertz through the body directly to the receiving device.

So far research and development are at a very early stage, and it will take a great deal of cooperation between hardware and software producers before such a system becomes widely available. The body can only transmit signals at a low frequency so that limits the amount of data that can be sent this way.

The Battle for Security

Not so long ago hacking was viewed an annoying pastime for nerds, but now it is a major issue for just about everything we do with our phones and computers. Every new development offers opportunities to hackers and challenges to those who protect our data. We must wait to see if body-transmitted codes are a viable solution to a problem that matters.

Jacob Simpson enjoys reading up on all the latest technology breakthroughs and envisioning how our lives will be in 20 or 30 years and uses this as a starting point for his interesting articles.

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My name is Gary, a 31 year old Tech Loving marketer passionate about home tech and coffee.

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