Forget Your Passwords

Looks like it is just about time for biometrics to make its long awaited debut. Yes, we have seen biometrics for quite some time, and it is true that the impact has been strong in the security world. But, get ready to see biometrics on steroids. It’s coming.

Let’s chat a moment about passwords. I don’t know about you, but I have to remember so many passwords that it is necessary to be in the right frame-of-mind sometimes just to get going. Passwords change from application to application and from entry into this secure website to another.

I know I shouldn’t write them down—and I don’t—but I do forget them. For instance, when I pay my utility bill at the city, I used to have to ask for a new password every time. The one they assigned to me was ridiculously long and burdensome. I guess they got tired of me asking and required that I change the password to suit my needs. I appreciated that.

I read my hometown newspaper once a week. Same thing happened here. I finally was able to change the password to something I could relate to from my youth. Otherwise, I had to be “in the zone” to remember the code.

The same goes for my iPhone. I can never remember the passcode, so I have to sit and think about it for a few minutes and get “in the zone.” There seems to be no limit to the number of passcodes one must remember to access cell phones, computers or any number of other technologies.

Biometrics may be poised to change all that, and the fact is, your body may be the new key in access control.

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, held in Las Vegas, several tech companies introduced biometrics as a way to make authentication easier and safer. The security industry has known this for a while, but getting buy-in from the public seems to be easier by sharing it on the consumer side.

If you use Apple’s iPhone 5s, you already know that it uses a fingerprint sensor to authenticate a user’s identity. Well, Bionym has introduced a wearable device that uses certain biometrics for authentication. This bracelet can do everything from unlocking personal devices to accessing personal Internet accounts. “It is about making identity easy,” said Karl Martin, Bionym CEO. “Which now, identity is hard. What if identity were easy; what are the things you could do? It is this idea that services you, and your personal accounts and your information can just follow you. All you need is your identity.”

It all seems quite possible, so let’s take it all a step further.Take for example that you’re in an establishment that is strictly non-smoking, say a restaurant, when all of a sudden you see a huge cloud of smoke appear directly above a person’s head. You sniff the air. Nothing. You sniff again. Still no smell. What you’ve probably just witnessed is the craze that is sweeping the world: e-cigarettes, vapor cigarettes and e-cigars. And now these little contraptions are embracing security.

Vapor Corp. has produced a prototype of a “biometric vaporizer” to biometrically identify the user of the device. Resembling a cigar-sized vaporizer, this device comes with a built-in fingerprint scanner that can recognize not just your fingerprint, but multiple users, should you decide to share your vapor.

While fingerprint unlocking makes sense for smart phones and laptops, why have a locking mechanism have on an “e-smoke?” According to Vapor Corp, it’s useful if you don’t want your children or roommates “vaping” while you’re away. And, should your device go missing, the perpetrator would not benefit because they would not be able to use it, unless, of course, it’s one of the multiple users.

Plus, coming soon to an e-cigarette store near you, the “smart e-cigarette,” complete with an app so the user can monitor how many times per day they have “vaped” and how much nicotine they have consumed.

All this seems a little out of the ordinary and even fantastical, but biometrics will soon be as commonplace as car keys dangling from your keychain. Biometrics is not new; it is only taking on several new identities.

For more than 20 years, biometric hand geometry has been providing access control at the highest levels. It is a layer of protection that ID cards cannot provide. An additional feature about biometrics is that it can be a standalone device at a single door or connected to an overall access control system.

At the Venetian Macao, a gaming strip much like Las Vegas, hand readers solved a crucial problem for contractors by protecting projects from theft and keeping people from getting hurt on construction sites. Because of strict labor and safety laws in Macao, biometrics restricted illegal workers and employees without safety training from entering construction sites by accurately denying access, while biometric hand geometry devices gave authorized workers quick access.

Although available for several decades, biometrics is turning heads on the consumer level in the same way it has been accepted in the security industry. Pretty soon, we will be a keyless society; our identity will be exactly who we are, individually.

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Security Today.

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