Security Mobility

Why your heart could be the next biometric security feature for your smartphone

A team at the University at Buffalo has discovered a method that uses the heart's measurements to determine user identity.

Image: iStockphoto/yodiyim

Researchers at the University at Buffalo have discovered a security method that uses the measurements of one's heart to identify and authenticate a user. The method, announced in a Monday press release, makes use of low-level Doppler radar to determine the heart's dimensions.

The initial scan takes roughly eight seconds, but after that the system can continuously monitor the heart of the user to make sure another user hasn't stepped in to work on the machine, the release said. In addition to making it much easier to log in and log out, the system improves security as every user's heart has a unique set of dimension.

"No two people with identical hearts have ever been found," University of Buffalo assistant professor Wenyao Xu said in the press release.

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The scan would be a type of authentication known as biometric security. Smartphone fingerprint scanners have long led the way in this market as one of the most popular methods. However, the inclusion of facial scanning in the iPhone X and some Android phones has furthered the conversation on what physical characteristics can be used to secure a computing device.

In addition to being used for smartphones, the heart scan technology could be used in airport security screenings, the release said. And, for those who may be worried about potential health effects of the scans, Xu mentioned in the release that the strength of the signal "is much less than Wi-Fi," and doesn't pose a health concern.

"We are living in a Wi-Fi surrounding environment every day, and the new system is as safe as those Wi-Fi devices," Xu said in the release. "The reader is about 5 milliwatts, even less than 1 percent of the radiation from our smartphones."

The heart scan has been in development for about three years, the release said. And, while there have been heart-based biometric systems before, they traditionally focus on electrocardiogram signals. This is the first one to measure heart geometry, Xus said in the release.

While the technology has implications for a variety of devices, the first step that Xu and the team are working on is making the device smaller and putting it on the corner of a computer keyboard. So far, the technology can monitor a heart from up to 30 meters away, the release said.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. A new biometric authentication system uses the geometry of a user's heart to identify and authenticate them to use the machine, according to University of Buffalo researchers.
  2. The system takes eight seconds to scan a heart, and then can monitor the user constantly to determine if another user tries to work on the machine.
  3. The scan can monitor a heart up to 10 meters away and offers no health risks, the researchers said.

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