Replace Your Password With Brainwaves? Yes, Really.

Tuesday, 9 Apr 2013 | 12:50 PM ET
Professor John Chuang with the Neurosky MindSet brainwave sensor.
Source: ischool.berkeley.edu
Professor John Chuang with the Neurosky MindSet brainwave sensor.

It sounds like something straight out of science fiction, but someday you may be able to access your computer just by thinking.

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Researchers at the UC Berkeley School of Information claim that computer brainwave-based authentication is an effective and secure substitution for manually entered passwords.

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By using sensors to register electroencephalograms (EEGs), or brainwave measurements, computers can recognize brainwaves and allow you to access your accounts via what the researchers call "pass-thoughts" rather than by typing a code consisting of letters, numbers and other characters.

With companies like Google and Microsoft reportedly looking for new ways to improve their password security systems, brainwave authentication may present opportunities.

In conducting their experiments, professor John Chuang and engineering and computer science student Charles Wang used the Neurosky MindSet, a $199 brainwave-reading headset connected to a computer with Bluetooth technology.

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Study participants were asked to wear the headset and perform seven mental tasks. In the first three, participants all did the same thing, such as focusing on their breathing or imagining moving a finger up and down.

The other four tasks were customized. For example, participants were asked to visualize a repetitive motion from a sport of their choice or concentrate on any one thing for 10 seconds.

In total, the tasks provided enough information to authenticate the individual user, according to the study.

This isn't the first time that using brainwaves has been proposed as a replacement for passwords. But until now, the technology needed to authenticate brainwaves has been expensive and invasive.

With highly effective, low-cost EEG sensors, though, the idea doesn't seem so far-fetched. Aside from the small sensor, the headset that the researchers used in their experiment was no different than than a Bluetooth headset.

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