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Seven ways DARPA is trying to kill the password

Martyn Williams | Aug. 11, 2014
DARPA is working on desktop and mobile technologies that work not just for the initial login but continuously while the user is accessing the device.

Microwave Heartbeats
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is trying to detect the individual features of your heartbeat from a phone. Microwave signals emitted by the phone are reflected back by your body, collected by sensors in the phone and amplified to detect your heart rhythm. This might have the added bonus of being able to alert you to see a doctor should a subtle change in your heartbeat happen.

System Anomalies
The last thing anyone wants to see on a PC is an error message, but this particular type of annoyance might turn out to have a role to play in security. By throwing up random error messages and analyzing how users respond to them, the Southwest Research Institute is hoping to identify individuals and spot intruders. So next time your PC tells you it's out of memory and asks if you want to report the issue, think carefully. It could be testing you.

Biometric Analysis
Perhaps most familiar to people through fingerprint sensors, biometric analysis seeks to exploit a wide range of personal characteristics. Li Creative Technologies is developing a voice-based system that can be used to unlock a mobile device. You'll be prompted to say a passphrase, and the software doesn't just monitor if the phrase was correct but whether you were the one saying it. A second function continuously monitors what's being said around the device to detect if another user has picked up the phone and is attempting to access it.

Visual Fingerprinting
The University of Maryland is using visual streams to make sure you're the one using your PC or phone. On the desktop it looks at things like the way you organize windows and resize them, your work patterns and limitations in mouse movements. On the phone the system pulls in three video streams: an image of you from the front-facing camera, an image of your surroundings (or shoes or pants) captured with the rear-facing camera, and your screen activity from the display. Researchers hope that taken together, these three streams will be distinct enough to authenticate an individual user and keep them authenticated while using the device.

 

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