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Forget it: Brainwaves may replace passwords

Illustration of human brain
Media For Medical | Universal Images Group | Getty Images

Always forgetting your not-so "memorable" data? Never fear – the end of the password could be in sight, as our brains might be able to do the work for us.

Researchers at Binghamton University, New York, have been looking into the way our brains react to words, and found that brainwaves could be used to replace passwords.

The scientists looked at the brain signals of 45 volunteers as they read a list of 75 acronyms, such as FBI and DVD, and recorded their reaction to each group of letters. Each participants' brain reacted differently to the acronyms, meaning that the computer was able to identify each volunteer with 94 percent accuracy.

It is this "brainprint" that could be used by security systems to verify a person's identity, the academics said in the study, which was published in the academic journal Neurocomputing this week.

New and more accurate methods of identification have become increasingly popular over recent years, following a string of high-profile data breaches and cyber-attacks.

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Security measures now available including fingerprint, voice, face and biometric identification.

But Sarah Laszlo, assistant professor of psychology and linguistics at Binghamton University and co-author of the report, said "brainprints" had some benefits over these other methods of identification.

"If someone's fingerprint is stolen, that person can't just grow a new finger to replace the compromised fingerprint -- the fingerprint for that person is compromised forever. Fingerprints are 'non-cancellable'," she said in a release.

"Brainprints, on the other hand, are potentially cancellable. So, in the unlikely event that attackers were able to steal a brainprint, the authorized user could 'reset' their brainprint."

However, Zhanpeng Jin, who is also at Binghamton University, expressed reservations over the wide-scale use of brain scans.

"We tend to see the applications of this system as being more along the lines of high-security physical locations, like the Pentagon or Air Force Labs, where there aren't that many users that are authorized to enter," he added.