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Next Advance in Computer Security
November 16, 2017

As computers and other electronic devices become a more and more ubiquitous part of modern society, security has become an ever increasingly important issue. Although advances like fingerprint or retinal scanning have been developed to enhance computer security systems, most computers are protected by simple user name and password log-in and log-out technology.

According to new information provided by the University at Buffalo (UB), a research team has developed a computer security system using the dimensions of your heart as your identifier.

The system uses low-level Doppler radar to measure your heart, and then continually monitors your heart to make sure no one else has stepped in to run your computer.

Supported in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the inventors described the technology in a paper, “Cardiac Scan: A Non-contact and Continuous Heart-based User Authentication System,” presented at the 23rd Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Communication (MobiCom). According to the researchers, the system is a safe and potentially more effective alternative to passwords and other biometric identifiers and may eventually be used for smartphones and at airport screening barricades.

“We would like to use it for every computer because everyone needs privacy,” said Wenyao Xu, PhD, the study’s lead author, and an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The result of a three year development effort, the system needs about 8 seconds to scan a heart the first time. It uses the geometry of the heart, its shape and size, and how it moves to make an identification. Once the initial scan is taken, the monitor can continuously recognize that heart. This is important as Prof. Xu notes, “No two people with identical hearts have ever been found.” And people’s hearts do not change shape, unless they suffer from serious heart disease, he said. And according to Prof. Xu, the signal strength of the system’s radar “is much less than Wi-Fi,” and consequently does not pose any health threat.

“We are living in a Wi-Fi surrounding environment every day, and the new system is as safe as those Wi-Fi devices,” he said. “The reader is about 5 milliwatts, even less than 1 percent of the radiation from our smartphones.”

Heart-based biometrics systems have been used for almost a decade, primarily with electrodes measuring electrocardiogram signals, “but no one has done a non-contact remote device to characterize our hearts’ geometry traits for identification,” Prof. Xu explained.

According to Prof. Xu, the new system has several advantages over current biometric tools: it is a passive, non-contact device, so users are not bothered with authenticating themselves whenever they log-in, and it monitors users constantly denying access to all but the owner.

In future research, Prof. Xu plans to miniaturize the system and have it installed onto the corners of computer keyboards. The system could also be used for user identification on cell phones. For airport identification, a device could monitor a person up to 30 meters away.

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