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Sweat as a biometric could one day replace smartphone passwords – A N I T H
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Sweat as a biometric could one day replace smartphone passwords

Sweat as a biometric could one day replace smartphone passwords


Wipe to unlock.

Image: Koldunov/shutterstock

Thumbprints can be replicated, facescans can be faked, but your sweat? It’s one of a kind. Or at least unique enough, as far as smartphone security goes. That’s the takeaway from a group of researchers claiming to have found a more secure form of biometric identification that could one day have you wiping to unlock. 

The idea is relatively straightforward: Everyone’s got a sweat profile, specific to them. And a smart device could learn the secret blend of secretions unique to its owner, let his or her phone sample whatever lovely blend is oozing out of their moist pores, and unlock the phone with it. 

And yes: They’re serious.

The paper, Promises and Challenges in Continuous Tracking Utilizing Amino Acids in Skin Secretions for Active Multi-Factor Biometric Authentication for Cybersecurity, was co-authored by Assistant Professor Jan Halamek at the University at Albany. Over email, Halamek broke down what he sees as the wide-ranging implications of the research, which “[could be] applicable in real-world applications involving simply the unlocking [of] a person’s smart device as well as a way to protect information stored within apps,” he said. 

Even more? This kind of technology could genuinely be for the betterment of society. For example, Halamek explained, it could benefit “people with certain disabilities, because they would not have to remember passwords or put their hand/fingers in a particular position to open the device.”

Professor Halamek and fellow researchers.

Professor Halamek and fellow researchers.

Image: university at albany

But just how, exactly, would Sweat ID work? Specifically, notes the (ironically dry) paper, the “amino acids found in sweat can be exploited for the establishment of an amino acid profile capable of identifying an individual user of a mobile or wearable device.”

And, Halamek told us, that sweat print has a few things going for it that other biometric identifiers (like fingerprints) just don’t. Mostly, it’s a lot harder for scammers to replicate. “[The] sequence of the unlocking mechanism will be based on complex biological systems that cannot be ascertained by anyone other than the device’s owner.”

While all this may sound a little, well, unappealing, if the benefits to security outweigh the ick-factor, this tech could very well be coming to your smartphone. 

“We believe that this concept could be seen in the real world in the next 5-10 years,” explained Halamek. Assuming, he added, that the manufacturers of your smart watches and phones feel like playing ball. 

In the end, whether or not Halamek’s proposal ever hits the mainstream might come down to the simple question of which is more of a turnoff — a smartphone that checks your secretions to determine if you’re really you, or say, hackers scrolling through your nudes?

Halamek, with his work on sweat as a biometric, clearly thinks he knows the answer. 

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Anith Gopal
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