Unlocking Your Phone With Your Heartbeat

Laboratory Equipment - Biometric authentication makes hacking into a phone or computer harder than just guessing or stealing a password—recent technologies such as fingerprint sensors and voice recognition software have been implemented in a variety of devices to ensure that the person accessing the device is the person it belongs to.

But traits as unique as a person's fingerprint, voice—or even their face—can be stolen and spoofed in attempts to bypass these biometric protections. In the age of social media, many are making their faces, voices—and yes, even their fingerprints—publicly available through photos and videos of themselves; but what if there was a biometric identifier that was not as easily accessible, something more private and deeply hidden, but yet could let someone unlock their device without even having to move?

Researcher and associate professor of electrical engineering Changzhi Li of Texas Tech University envisions such a form of passive and "continuous authentication" with his "cardiac password" project, an ongoing research effort to develop sensors that could authenticate a user with only the unique waveform of their heartbeat. Li recently received a $205,418 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study heartbeat detection as a secure, reliable and convenient method of biometric authentication, and develop a device that can not only read the waveforms and differentiate between different people, but be trained to adapt to a variety of different situations, such as when a person is exercising.
Li told LabOutlook that the idea for the cardiac password project came out of over a decade of previous research detecting and measuring the human heartbeat.

"We have been measuring how fast (the heart beats), mainly focused on the frequency of heartbeat. But recently we started to look at the waveform of a heartbeat, and we noticed that it is possible to differentiate people with the waveform of their heartbeat," Li said.

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