The reactions of our brains when striving to understand certain words or expressions could soon be used as a means of personal identification, doing away with the need for passwords and such biometric methods as retina analysis for user authentication.

Brainwaves Set to Become Password 2.0?

Now that creating passwords is becoming ever-more demanding, requiring special characters, minimum length, etc, computer experts have been trying out a number of techniques in an attempt to replace this rather archaic and unreliable means of ensuring cyber-security. One such initiative is the bracelet designed by Canadian startup Bionym, which works by using your heartbeat – or, to be more precise, the periodicity between your heartbeats – to prove your identity, with a view to replacing passwords and other means of authentication in the longer term.

In similar vein, a team of researchers at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language in Spain have carried out a study to test a new form of personal identification using brainwaves. During the experiment, the electrical signals emitted by the brains of 45 volunteers were recorded while they were reading a list of 75 abbreviations – such as DVD, FBI and CIA. A software programme then analysed the subtle differences between the brainwaves emitted by the guinea pigs while they were reading.

The software programme’s analysis of the different types of waves enabled the researchers to pick out specific personal characteristics. When the process was repeated some six months later, the system was able to identify the 45 volunteers with 94% accuracy. This exercise demonstrates how a person could be identified by his/her brainwaves. In fact it appears that everyone has his/her own way of understanding a word or abbreviation s/he is reading, so when the left side of the brain is confronted with a word, it emits brainwaves which are unique to itself. These unique signals could serve as a means of user authentication. This is not this first time researchers have tried to use brainwave analysis as a means of identification, but up to now it has proved virtually impossible to isolate the waves emitted by a precise area of the brain. The research team’s approach – asking the volunteers to concentrate on reading words – enabled the software to focus on the brain waves emitted by the zone which corresponds to reading and word recognition.

In the longer term it should be possible to design a system to scan the human brain and analyse the way in which it reacts to different words in order to identify a person and authorise access to online facilities. This type of approach could replace biometric analysis based on the iris, retina or fingerprints – provided that the research team can come up with a less intrusive way of measuring brain activity than the headset armed with electrodes that was placed on the heads of the 45 volunteers in the experiment.

By Anthéa Delpuech