Picture this: You're sitting at the computer, ready to log into your bank's website to manage your accounts.
Password? Who needs one? Just thinking about certain words could let you log in, researchers suggest.
Scientists from Binghamton University in New York say a study they conducted revealed that responses within your brain to particular words might take the place of passwords.
Writing in the journal Neurocomputing, the researchers describe how they observed and recorded brain signals in 45 study participants while the volunteers read through a list containing 75 acronyms like FBI and DVD.
The reaction of the region in the brain related to reading and word recognition was different for each acronym and unique to each volunteer, the researchers said.
The difference was so significant a computer was able to use the signals to identify a particular volunteer from their brainwaves with an accuracy level of 94 percent, they report in their study they've entitled "Brainprint."
The finding suggests that future security systems could verify any person's identity by simply analyzing their brainwaves, says study co-author Sarah Laszlo.
Such a security system is a more attractive prospect than one based on other biometrics such as fingerprints because a brain biometric can't be stolen or forged, she explains.
"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," she says. "Fingerprints are 'non-cancellable.' Brainprints, on the other hand, are potentially cancellable."
Discarding the words used to generate the brain signals and instituting new ones would create new signals — and a new "brainprint," she suggests.
"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," Laszlo says.
Laszlo's colleague Zhanpeng Jin, a professor at the university's Computer and Electrical Engineering departments, says although a security system based on brainwaves might not be something widely utilized in low-security situations, it might have significant government or military uses.
"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, and those users don't need to constantly be authorizing the way that a consumer might need to authorize into their phone or computer," he explains.