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Brain waves and their potential for use as human biometric identification, which we first covered in 2013, have risen to the surface once again, as hacks, Internet hoaxes and scams, and phishing attacks have become all too common on the Web. Humanity knows the password isn’t secure enough to remain the universal standard forever Examining so-called ‘passthoughts’ can already serve as a way to distinguish humans, but a new study from Spain points to word meanings as a specific type of identifier. A team lead by Blair Armstrong, head of the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain, and Language, recorded the brainwaves of 45 individuals as they read through a list of 75 acronyms such as “DVD” and “FBI.” The team scored a 94% accuracy rating in using the brain waves of the patients to distinguish their identities.
Word meanings are often more “set in stone” in the brain than isolated memories, such as when a person trips and falls on a hard surface, or sprains an ankle sliding into first base in a college baseball game. Some memories haunt us with emotions we can’t shake. Other memories, once deemed horrific, serve as stepping stones to greater awareness of ourselves as time passes. While these memories (called episodic) can change over time as our interpretations of such events change, the meanings of words don’t change as often. We may find ourselves in a new career as compared with where we were five years ago. But the meaning Americans attach to the word “dollar,” or Europeans attach to the word “euro,” doesn’t change – even if currency exchange rates do.
Meanwhile, no two fingerprints are alike — but fingerprints, like passwords, can be manipulated with some know-how and mastery. Hackers have shown in recent days how fingerprint scanners, such as the ones on the Apple iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S5, can become targets for hackers. Fingerprints are more secure than passwords, and especially passcodes (which often have just four numerals). But fingerprints are still subject to possible extrapolation from the surface of mobile devices. Passthoughts can’t be visibly touched, but reside within an individual.
To make the case against fingerprint security, Armstrong recounts a 2005 Malaysian carjacking where a victim’s fingers were cut off to gain access to his car starter that was fingerprint-guarded. With Apple’s and Google’s decisions to encrypt newer iOS (iPhone 6 and 6 Plus) and Android devices (Android M, with its native fingerprint security), consumers could find themselves in legal situations where they’re prompted to register their fingerprint to unlock a device for law enforcement access. Such evidence uncovered during a fingerprint unlock event could be used in American courts to indict or convict a suspect. Passthoughts could not be subjected to legal statutes as easily.
Passthoughts could become the measuring standard for biometric identification in the days and months ahead, but the concept needs some work before becoming a form of mainstream security. Could brain waves indict an individual in the future? We sure hope not, since the acronym “IRS” would betray the thoughts of every American taxpayer alone come April 15th.
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