The way our brains react to certain words is so unique it could be used for identification

'Brainprint' signals proposed as unique human ID

The unique way the brain of every person responds to certain words could be used for identification purposes instead of passwords, researchers have proposed.

In a new study described in the journal Neurocomputing, a team of scientists from Binghamton University, USA, observed the brain signals of 45 volunteers as they reacted to a list of acronyms being read out to them.

The scientists found that the brain of each individual responded differently to such an extent to the acronyms, including words such as FBI and DVD, that identification of each person was possible with 94 per cent accuracy.

The researchers argue that, in light of their findings, brain waves could be used in the future as safe, unbreakable biometric keys that could help users of computer-based applications get rid of the need to remember lengthy passwords. The team believes brainwaves could even present certain advantages over more established current means of biometric identification.

"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,” said Sarah Laszlo, assistant professor of psychology and linguistics at Binghamton University and co-author of the Brainprint experiment.

“Fingerprints are 'non-cancellable.' Brainprints, on the other hand, are potentially cancellable. So, in the unlikely event that attackers were actually able to steal a brainprint from an authorised user, the authorised user could then 'reset' their brainprint."

The ‘Brainprints’ used in the study were generated in the part of the brain associated with reading and recognising words. While the system may not be suitable for everyday use, due to the need to use mind-reading electrodes, it could be of great benefit in high-security applications.

"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,” said Zhanpeng Jin, assistant professor at Binghamton University's departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Biomedical Engineering. “There aren't that many users that are authorised to enter and those users don't need to constantly be authorising the way that a consumer might need to authorise into their phone or computer."

The project is funded by the National Science Foundation and Binghamton University's Interdisciplinary Collaboration Grants (ICG) Program.


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