Forget Passwords, Think Pass Thoughts

Over the past few years, identity establishment through passwords is becoming rather overwhelming. Remembering all those different passwords for a number of accounts and protecting their secrecy is, indeed, a big concern. The availability of various password management tools is not without issues and challenges.

Biometrics, like retinal scan and finger prints, is one solution that could have rendered the password based identity obsolete. This, however, has not happened so far.

Recently, a rather new kind of identity has been experimented with that is thought based or, to be more precise, brain based!

Our brain waves happen to be unique for each individual, just like retinal scan. If we are having a certain thought and some body else is asked to imagine the same, the kind of waves that the two brains emit will not only be different but also unique for each individual. These brain waves can be sensed using EEG sensors and can then be used as thought signatures to establish the identity of a person.

A team comprising of students and a professor at the School of Information, University of California, Berkeley, has recently demonstrated this ’mental approach’ towards security.

The idea of using brain waves for identification is not entirely new; non availability of inexpensive and simple sensing system was the bottle neck. Technologies that were previously available for EEG data were of clinical grade with 32 to 256 channels and a high price. The availability of consumer grade single channel headsets with a single dry-contact sensor resting against the forehead, providing EEG data at a price of around $100, became the real game changer.

The next logical step was to evaluate and establish the potential of this single channel EEG data as a thought signature for authentication purposes. The subject users put on the EEG headset, the EEG signal was transmitted to a computer via blue tooth for further processing. Using customized ‘thoughts’ for each user with added tuning and tweaking, the system was able to correctly identify the subject user in more than 99% cases.

Suitable mental tasks for this kind of identification need to be easy but not boring despite being repetitive; such as imagining singing a song or counting objects of a particular color or even focusing on one’s breathing.

The availability of improved, more economical and less obstructive EEG sensors along with better identification software may lead the way towards replacement of passwords by pass thoughts. It is the Ali baba’s ‘sim sim’ with a touch of imagination!