Will ‘electronic DNA’ replace passwords?

According to new research, the way we interact with our technology could be the key to securing our gadgets in future.

A team from the University of Oxford says that our physical behaviour – including how quickly we type and how we hold our phones – is unique and can be quantified. In fact, there are 500 behaviours that can be used to make up an individual’s electronic DNA. In this case, DNA is nothing to do with the genome but stands for Defined Natural Attributes.

Following decades of research and analysis, the scientists say they can tell not only if someone else is using your laptop but when you’ve had sex or taken drugs. (And you thought the government knew too much about you…) It can also differentiate bots from humans.

Adrian Neal, who has a background in cryptography, developed the technology while studying for an MSc. He’s now chief executive of Oxford BioChronometrics, a start-up from the university that’s striking out into the private sector today to develop this software for commercial use. Reassuringly, he says his focus isn’t on prying into user’s lives but making sure their tech is secure. ‘We just want to collect the data to make sure that x is who x says they are,’ he told The Guardian. It could eventually be used as a way to log in to any computer, tablet, or mobile phone.

But opponents say that this kind of security will be too expensive and off-putting to customers who don’t want to be monitored so closely, even by an inanimate object. I guess in the end it will come down to which we resent more: our computers knowing us more intimately than our life partners ever will, or having to reset at least one password every week as our attempts to defeat hackers stretch our memories to the limit.

Image via Serge Kij’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley

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