Fingerprint scans may eliminate passwords, researchers say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 November, 2013, 8:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 November, 2013, 8:43pm


American researchers are working on technology that could see all those passwords that computer users must punch in replaced with steps such as iris and fingerprint scans.

The basement lab of the International Centre for Biometrics Research at Purdue University is where such emerging biometric technologies are tested for weaknesses before going mainstream.

Iris and fingerprint scans as well as facial and voice recognition are just a few of the tools that can improve security while making lives easier, said Stephen Elliott, the centre's director.

The technology can allow someone to log in to a computer or activate a smartphone simply by swiping their fingerprint over a sensor - and stop the need to frequently change passwords.

"I think the average person would tell you they have too many passwords and it's a hassle to change them all the time, and therefore they use the same password for lots of things, which inherently makes that easier to break," Elliott said.

Research into new uses of biometrics is blossoming as universities enlist the technology for tasks ranging from paying for meals to restricting access to high-security facilities. Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has even studied using sensors in special "bio-soles" that measure unique gaits and foot pressure to identify people. Soldiers in Iraq carry handheld devices that allow them to scan fingerprints, retinas and faces and compare them with a database filled with hundreds of thousands of identities.

Biometrics is already in use at a KFC restaurant in West Lafayette, in the state of Indiana, where workers punch in by putting their finger on a scanner attached to the cash register.

Chris Smith, the assistant manager, said passwords were often shouted out among workers and the fingerprint system improves the security of cash registers by better limiting access.

"I'm sure that they have a hundred [passwords] that they have to remember for their things at home - their online banking and what-not," Smith said. "So it's just one more ease for them that they don't have to have."

Elliott said: "I think once people see the things in consumer's hands - the biometrics in there - then we'll just see people try to push other deployments of biometrics, because it's easier."