The Inevitable Death of the Password

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password, security, bill gates, microsoft, google, amazon, banking, bank, biometrics, fingerprint scanner, voice recognition, face recognition, privacy, data, secure, 123456, artificial intelligence, ai

Despite news stories about security breaches becoming increasingly frequent, most people still prefer convenience over security when it comes to choosing a password. This is obvious when you consider that in the year 2017, where incredible technological feats are being achieved, ‘123456’ still remains the world’s most commonly used password. On the other hand, having a unique password for every account in a day where almost every website or service requires the creation of a ‘free account’ is impractical and cumbersome.

The Answer on the Tip of your Finger

The answer comes in a flash of inspiration: get rid of passwords altogether. Why not rely on biometric technology, which has long been used in environments of top-notch security in lieu of traditional passwords, to protect from increasingly smart hackers? Fingerprint scanners have been available in smartphones and some laptop computers for some time now, and now that voice-activated devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, are gaining widespread popularity, companies are able to create software that can recognize individual speech patterns with amazing accuracy. Facial recognition is also being developed at a rapid pace.

Dylan Casey, vice president of product management at Yahoo! Inc., hopes to kill passwords altogether. ““In the future, we’ll look back on this time and laugh that we were required to create a 10-character code with upper- and lower-case letters, a number, and special character to sign in, much in the same way that today’s teenagers must laugh at the concept of buying an album on a compact disc,” says Casey.

But while vision is one thing, implementation remains quite another. Companies may still have a hard time persuading people to switch to biometric logins on a wider scale—and a harder time even making sure that the new technology is as immune to hackers as the regular password.

Apple introduced the fingerprint scanner in the iPhone (followed by MacBooks) four years ago, the technology has gained significant popularity. Now, Microsoft is the next big name to try their hand (pun definitely intended) at fingerprint technology. Apparently, by October or November, we should be able to “take your phone, walk up to your Windows 10 PC and just use your thumb print to log into your PC,” if Alex Simons of Microsoft Corp.’s identity division is to be believed.

Applications

With banking being an industry so heavily dependent on keeping information secure, U.K. based bank Barclays started allowing voice-recognition based identity confirmation for their more affluent clients as early as 2014. The technology works by works by taking a recording and analyzing the different voice patterns, vocal tones, pitch, pace, and other factors that make voices so unique.

Facial recognition is another area that is gaining stream. Lloyds Banking Group’s deal with Microsoft to use their ‘Hello’ technology to allow customers to log into their account by pointing their face toward their webcams, while HSBC now allows customers to open bank accounts by sending in a selfie, and an establishment in Beijing has gone as far as using the technology to prevent toilet paper theft.

Some experts seem to be confident that the system is as secure as a fingerprint, and that the technology is able to detect when an impression or recording of a customers’ voice is being played back to it. But is it hack-proof? Some have doubts.

A Work in Progress

Some experts are of the opinion that the refinement of AI will produce machines capable of copying anyone’s voice patterns. Already, Lyrebird, a start-up from Montreal, has developed a software that does just that, releasing audio samples of their software speaking impressively in the voices of significant public figures including Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, and President Donald Trump.

Although Lyrebird has yet to be tested on security software—and it probably couldn’t fool a high-security voice recognition software in its present form—it in all likeliness could in the future as the technology develops. The same could be said about face-recognition. While Microsoft insists that its ‘Hello’ will not be tricked into authenticating based on a photograph, other face-recognition software does.

Back in 2004, Bill Gates anticipated this shift that would render traditional passwords obsolete. However, the high cost of budding technology and peoples’ resistance to change has made the process a slow and arduous one. However, as costs lower and people begin to embrace new ways of doing things, alternative methods of keeping information secure will continue to rise and eventually hammer the last nail into the coffin of the humble password.

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