I always thought I came up with pretty good passwords, which seem to be needed for everything these days--from accessing my computer and voice mail at work, to withdrawing money from the ATM, to logging on to my favorite Internet sites. I usually shun the typical choices like my pet's name or mother's maiden name, preferring to use words that describe what is going on in my life. Consequently, I've had some interesting passwords in my day, including "haircut, backache, new bike, sore muscles," and "zits!"
I still laugh about the time everyone in my office decided to figure out their supposed porn star names, which were to be concocted from the name of your first pet and the name of the street you grew up on. I turned out to be "Chippy Kent," and not only did I feel like I had a whole new persona, I was certain it was a completely unique password.
But apparently any typed password is passe by today's standards. A recent article about biometrics in New Scientist magazine has made me realize I also can forget everything I've seen in the movies and on TV about more modern identification techniques based on voice, fingerprint, iris, and retina recognition. The next big thing in ID technology may be based on our ears.
Researchers at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom are studying whether otoacoustic emissions (OAEs)--the results of a commonly used hearing test--may be so unique to each person that they can offer personal identity verification.
OAEs are produced during a computerized test when sound is sent into the ear and the ear responds by making a kind of echo, which can be measured to determine how the cochlea is functioning.
The study seeks to develop OAEs into a tool to curtail the growing problem of identity theft. In a written summary, the researchers state, "The challenge... is to create a personal identity verification schema that is highly reliable, non-invasive, fast, socially acceptable, and cheap to deploy."
According to the New Scientist article, OAE identification would probably be implemented via phones and "could boost the security of call-centre and telephone-banking transactions and reduce the need for people to remember numerous identification codes." The article points out that the technology also could be useful when cell phones are lost or stolen, because the phones could be programmed to shut down if the person using them is not the owner.
A grant supporting the research runs through June 2010, and the researchers have some problems to resolve if the technology is to be put into wide use. Apparently the OAE results can be skewed by multiple variables including alcohol, drugs, ear infections, and earwax.
So Chippy Kent has become a password of the past, and I am planning a trip to my audiologist to make sure my ears will be healthy enough to identify me in a new OAE-ID world.