Thursday, March 19, 2015

New identity technology

We’re used to using UserID’s and passwords to authenticate to computer systems, but there are some new technologies (and some not-so-new but improved ones) in this space.

Face recognition and eye scanners

Intel is using a technology they call “True Key” – it uses facial characteristics converted into a mathematical description of your face (it also integrates with fingerprint scanning or other biometrics.) It can be used to authenticate you to a password organizer. This is already available on multiple platforms.

Fujitsu is working on a scanning technology that recognizes the patterns in your iris – iris patterns change very little after infancy and provide for very accurate authentication. They’re also very difficult to fake. This technology would be good where hand or fingerprint scanning is inappropriate. This technology uses an infrared scanner so it can work in the dark. It should be available in the next year or so.

Another company, EyeLock demoed such a technology at CES this year.

I’ve used a product called KeyLemon which uses face recognition to authenticate me to my Mac, but found it cumbersome to use. I think the key is to build this technology into the base operating system instead of trying to integrate it as an add-on.


Fingerprint scanners have been around for a while and they’re pretty accurate. Combined with a PIN or password they’re very secure. But there are cases when fingerprints aren’t appropriate – for example in extreme conditions where users must wear gloves or protective gear that would get in the way of fingerprint scanning.

I use a fingerprint to unlock my iPhone and for some payment services. And while it’s possible to fool fingerprint scanners, for this kind of lightweight authentication, it’s highly unlikely that anyone would go to the cost and effort to try to fool my phone. I’ve also used an app called FingerLock to unlock my Mac using the fingerprint scanner on my phone (not very reliable…)

There are a couple of technologies that look like they’ll be even more accurate and difficult to fool. Qualcomm has a 3D fingerprint system that uses ultrasonics to more accurately read fingerprints. They can authenticate your print no matter how you position your finger on the phone and this process can be done through glass, metal or plastic, so manufacturers don’t need to dedicate space to a fingerprint reader. And they even work with sweaty fingers or fingers covered in oil or other contaminants.
This technology should be available later in 2015.

Synaptics has a fingerprint scanner that can be integrated into the side of your phone or tablet – where you’re likely to hold the phone. It could be built in to a power button or just included somewhere in the frame of the phone. This technology does require you to swipe your finger across the scanner, but it’s very slim which manufacturers like. This should also be available later this year.

Voice authentiation

Nuance systems has a voice biometric authentication system that recognizes your voice (after training) and can authenticate you. Since we use our voice for so many things, including interacting with computers, this seems like a natural and transparent authentication vehicle. This system is being evaluated by Barclays for authenticating customers using snippets of natural conversation with an agent.


The Apple Watch is said to have a heartbeat sensor that could be used to authenticate you. There are a couple of other wearables that could be used for authentication using your unique ECG patterns.

Vein sensors

PalmSecure and Fujitsu have been working on palm vein sensors for laptop authentication.

Hitachi has a system that allows them to detect patterns in the veins of your fingers to authenticate you. They’re thinking that this technology could replace keycard badges or PIN entry for building access.

Whatever technology is used, it needs to be friendly, reliable and accurate. Since this space is so competitive, this technology should mature rather quickly. I would expect to see more of these systems integrated into phones tablets and PC’s in the next year or so.

Have you used any of these technologies? What has your experience been?

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