Passwords can be transmitted through body rather than Bluetooth

Computer researchers and electrical engineers from the University of Washington havefound a way to confirm a user’s identity through the human body, from a touch device like afingerprint sensor to an input device that requires a password.

The new method leverages the signals used by fingerprint sensors, already commonlyused for authentication on smartphones, laptops and mobile devices to transmit securepassword data through the body. Avoiding transmissions through WiFi or Bluetoothreduces the risk of eavesdropping or interception of secure password data by a maliciousentity.

The research team devised a method by which secure passwords can be sent through thebody, rather than through the air by WiFi or Bluetooth, where they are vulnerable tohacking. Using low-frequency transmissions, communications may be sent from a devicethat physically confirms identity to one that requires a password to confirm identityharmlessly, through the human body.

Fingerprint sensors are generally used to receive input about your finger, and use that datato authenticate identity. However, the UW team uses that data as output, corresponding tothe data in a password. The data that authenticates identity through touch travels securelythrough the body to a receiver in a device that requires authentication by password.

For example, your phone can communicate with your smart door lock, or your FitBit withyour laptop, by transmitting data through your body rather than through the air.Authenticating your identity on one devices sends the required passcode to authenticateyour identity with the other.

Merhdad Hessar, a doctoral student and co-author of the study said, “Let’s say I want toopen a door using an electronic smart lock. I can touch the doorknob and touch thefingerprint sensor on my phone and transmit my secret credentials through my body toopen the door, without leaking that personal information over the air.”

The research team believes that the technology can be useful to authenticate user identityfor medical devices that require confirmation, including glucose monitors and insulinpumps.

The body transmission system was tested on fingerprint sensor including the iPhone,Lenovo laptop trackpad, and Adafruit touchpad. The tests were successful regardless ofbody type, or position or motion of the subject. While the team confirms that these tests arepreliminary, they do believe that transmission speed and effectiveness can be improved ifresearchers are given more access to fingerprint sensor manufacturing technology andsoftware.

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