A team at Binghamton University found that each of us has a personal "brainprint" that can be detected with particular techniques. In an experiment reported in the journal IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security, the researchers, led by Dr Sarah Laszlo, explained how they selected 50 volunteers and showed them various images.
These included photos of "a slice of pizza, a boat, Anne Hathaway, [and] the word 'conundrum,' " the paper explains. As each subject looked at the images, an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine was picking up the way their brain behaved.
The scientists found that each participant's brain reacted in a different and specific way to the images shown. Building on that, the researchers managed to developed an algorithm which was able to match every person with their "brainprint" with high accuracy.
According to Laszlo and her colleagues, "brainprints" could become the passwords of the future. One could first be plugged to the EEG machine to record his or her particular "brainprint" as they look at some specific image, effectively setting a "brain pin code." Then, every time that person sees that given image again, another EEG machine would cross-reference its brainwaves with a vast database to confirm their identity beyond any doubt.
This sounds like it could be a long and cumbersome way of creating one's password, but in fact the experiment showed that all that is needed to accurately pick up the "brainprint" are three electrodes applied to the scalp.
And the technique's reliability trumps its shortcomings: it would be practically impossible to obtain a "brain password" surreptitiously. Even if it happened, though. it would be very easy to just reset it by looking at another image. This gives the "brainprint" an edge on the majority of alternative biometrics-based identification systems.
"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," Laszlo said.
"Fingerprints are 'non-cancelable.' Brainprints, on the other hand, are potentially cancelable. So, in the unlikely event that attackers were actually able to steal a brainprint from an authorized user, the authorized user could then 'reset' their brainprint."
While using the "brainprint" as a new way to lock and unlock our computers or smartphones the technology is still decidedly far away, and could initially be rolled out only for the highest-security facilities — like the Pentagon or the vault of a central bank.