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Password-free security uses voice, user behaviour to verify identity

Michael Kan | Jan. 27, 2017
Security providers Nuance Communications and SecureAuth are trying to help enterprises go password free.

Essentially the hardware is replacing the password. When logging on to a system, the user will receive a notification sent to their phone that can only be unlocked through a fingerprint scan. Clicking on the notification will then grant access to the system.

However, SecureAuth’s authentication process is also on the lookout for unusual behavior from the user even after logon. For instance, it’ll examine inconsistencies with the person’s keystrokes, mouse movements, where the user logged in from, at what time, along with the configuration settings on the device.

In that way, SecureAuth can assess whether someone accessing the system is possibly a hacker or not.  

“It doesn’t only matter how big a lock you have on the door,” Graham said. “It’s about how quickly you can respond to remove the attacker from the environment.”

Potential drawbacks

In the future, authentication systems may very well act more like “fraud detectors,” said David Mahdi, an analyst with research firm Gartner. Tech companies are aggregating so much data about their users, they’ll be able to notice suspicious activity from normal behavior, and boot out suspected bad guys.

“The more data points you can look at, the better," he said.

Companies including Google and Microsoft are also developing better authentication systems that rely on other biometrics such as facial recognition or even how a person walks. So it’s maybe only a matter of time before these technologies become more available and displace the password.

However, one major obstacle is getting the industry behind the same standards on authentication, Mahdi said. Many enterprises are also using legacy systems that they fear will break if upgraded. 

"A lot of laptops have fingerprint readers," he said. "But all the organizations that I talk too aren't using them, because the laptops have a specific driver, and I've heard its a nightmare to push out updates to them."

It's also true that any biometric system, such as fingerprint and voice, might have drawbacks. For example, what if your phone runs out of battery, or if you're in an extremely loud area?

“They all have their pros and cons,” said Mahdi. “There’s not one method to rule them all."

Nuance Communications said its own system isn't perfect. For instance, its voice biometric technology will have trouble working with people who have laryngitis or other throat-related illnesses.

However, the company says its solutions is an improvement over passwords, which users often forget. Nuance's product can also be combined with other technologies for two-factor authentication.

"You could have two separate biometrics," Beranek said. "It could be fingerprint."

 

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