‘Biometric’ earbuds invisibly prove it’s you, with no need for passwords

Biometrics such as fingerprints or eye-scans are touted as a replacement for the passwords and PINs we all know and hate – and Intel’s new smartphone earbuds could be the most discreet way of authenticating a user ever.

The earbuds, designed with SMS Audio, harvest heart-rate information using optics inside the ear – monitoring blood pulses and eliminating “noise” according to Business Insider.

The SMS Audio Fitness buds are built for fitness fans, but Intel plans further applications – and is vocal in its opposition to passwords. Other gadgets, such as the Bionym bracelet, already use heart-rate as an identifier: it’s more unique than fingerprints, and the SMS Audio buds could be a step towards a wearable “password” you can almost forget.

“A built-in optical sensor that continuously measures heart rate during intense exercise, states of relaxation and every moment in between – while dynamically removing noise signals caused by body motion and ambient light,” says Intel in a statement.

In the past month, We Live Security reported five major database leaks, usually of passwords.

Passwords: Let there be light?

Gizmodo reports that biometric devices have so far failed to gain widespread acceptance in part because of their bulk – whereas the SMS Audio devices charge themselves using motion, removing the need for extra batteries or chargers.

“In the wearable space, we see a lot of hype. I don’t think the market is ever going to be that big if all we have are just square cellphones taped to your wrist,” says Mike Bell, General Manager of Intel’s New Devices Group.

There are competitors which use the reading – but the Bionym bracelet relies on being charged, unlike Intel’s, which communicates directly with smartphones via the audio jack.

It was actually observed over 40 years ago that ECGs had unique characteristics,” Bionym chief executive Martin said. “The modern research into practical systems goes back about 10 years or so. What we do is ultimately look for the unique features in the shape of the wave that will also be permanent over time. The big breakthrough was a set of signal-processing and machine-learning algorithms that find those features reliably and to turn them into a biometric template.”

For you, no charge

ESET Senior Research Fellow David Harley discusses the advantages of biometric systems in a We Live Security blog post, “The sad fact is, static passwords are a superficially cheap but conceptually unsatisfactory solution to a very difficult problem, especially if they aren’t protected by supplementary techniques. Biometrics and one-time passwords and tokens are much more secure, especially when implemented in hardware as a two-factor authentication measure.”

Intel said, “The complexity of keeping digital identities safe grows as mobile applications and devices become a more important part of our daily lives. Intel’s intent is to intensify our efforts dedicated to making the digital world more secure, and staying ahead of threats to private information on mobile and wearable devices.”

TechCrunch reports that, “additional application support” will be added. Intel is reaching out to developers to make apps:  “Intel has created an SDK called the Intel IQ Software Kits for any companies that want to use the features that Intel developed while building the circuitry inside the BioSport.”

 

Author Rob Waugh, We Live Security

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