8 Futuristic Password Replacements (6 Use Your Body)


The first computer passwords were introduced in the early 1960s, thanks to an MIT computer scientist named Fernando Corbató. These new digital keys were useful, but also kind of a pain. There were regular security breaches, and people hated having to memorize multiple passwords for multiple accounts.

More than 50 years later, not much has changed. High-profile companies are still plagued by hackers, and millions of our accounts are breached each year. And it’s no wonder—our most commonly used passwords are appallingly simple: 123456 and password topped last year’s list. Corbató calls the current state of Internet security a “nightmare,” admitting even his own list of passwords is three typed pages long.

Luckily, there are a number of cool projects in the works aimed at replacing the classic PIN. Here are a few.

1. Your Brainprint

Maybe you still get a little giddy every time you unlock your phone with your fingerprint. If so, prepare to be amazed. Researchers from Binghamton University say your "brainprint"—the unique brainwave reaction you have to certain stimuli, like words—could someday be used to unlock our accounts and devices. In a new study in the journal Neurocomputing, a computer was able to identify volunteers by their brainprints with 94 percent accuracy. Brainprint passwords won’t become ubiquitous any time soon—right now they require users to strap some electrodes to their head—but they could be used in "high-security physical locations" like the Pentagon, researchers say.

2. Your Heartbeat

Like your brain, your heartbeat also has its own unique signature in the wave patterns created by your heart’s electrical activity. A startup called Bionym has created a bracelet that turns this signature into a key. Once you snap the Nymi bracelet on, it uses an electrocardiogram sensor to verify your identity. The idea is that the bracelet would then sync with other devices, from your computer and phone to your car door and hotel room. You wouldn’t have to authenticate every time you want to unlock something, as the bracelet keeps you “signed in” until you take it off. A built-in motion sensor means you could unlock different objects with a specific twist of the wrist. But the future of Nymi will depend on its creators finding partners and developers who want to incorporate its functionality into their designs. Until then, it’s just another smart-ish bracelet.

 3. Your Face

Unlike heartbeat and brainprint authentication, facial recognition is already fairly easy to implement. Earlier this year Intel released True Key, a password manager app that uses your unique facial characteristics to verify your identity. The app takes a photo of your face and remembers your features, “like your facial math—the distance between your eyes and your nose.” True Key works on Windows computers and Android devices but not yet on Apple products. It will be free to use on 15 websites but $19.95 a year for any more than that.

4. Your Google Searches

A project called ActivPass would use your digital activity, and your own recollection of that activity, to confirm your identity. The project comes from researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, and the University of Texas at Austin. They created an app that monitors smartphone activity, as well as an algorithm to mine that activity for events that could be used as passwords. For example, ActivPass might ask you who the first person to message you this morning was, or what terms you Googled yesterday. The questions have to be unique enough that no one else could answer them, but not so obscure that they can’t jog a user’s memory.

The researchers found we’re pretty bad at remembering anything after about a day, so recent activity is the most useful. The questions generated by ActivPass worked effectively as password prompts, and users produced the right answer 95 percent of the time.

 5. Sound Verification Between Your Computer and Your Phone

Early last year, Google acquired a startup called SlickLogin that wanted to use sounds as passwords. The application was a bit complicated: when a user wanted to be authenticated, a website would play a nearly inaudible, unique sound that would be picked up by an app on the user’s phone. The app would recognize the sound, therefore confirming a user’s identity and that their phone is in the same room as their computer. Right now, it’s not entirely clear what Google plans to do with SlickLogin.

 6. The Veins in Your Palm

In April, PayPal’s global head of developer evangelism, Jonathan Leblanc, suggested our unique vein patterns could kill the traditional password. A tool called BiyoWallet is already on it, letting users pay for things at retail shops by placing their palms on an infrared scanner. “Palm vein patterns are secure because you can’t leave traces of your palm vein patterns like you can with fingerprints, and recreating a hand with flowing blood is practically impossible,” says BiyoWallet’s website.

 7. Your Stomach Acid

Motorola has created a “vitamin” that could turn an entire person into a walking authentication device. The high-tech pill is activated by stomach acid and emits a signal to communicate with various devices so long as it’s still inside your body. “It means that my arms are like wires, my hands are like alligator clips—when I touch my phone, my computer, my door, my car, I’m authenticated in,” Regina Dugan, former director of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and now head of Motorola's Advanced Technology and Projects, told Entrepreneur. Sound ultra-futuristic? The vitamin is already FDA approved.

 8. Electronic Tattoos

Stretchy, sensor-packed materials applied to the skin could also be used to identify a human being in place of a password. Motorola is already working on this with a company called MC10, which has been making what’s known as the “Biostamp” since 2012. The Biostamp looks like a temporary tattoo and is filled with flexible electronics that can bend and stretch with the skin. It monitors and transmits information about its wearer's vital signs, including pulse and blood-oxygen level, body temperature, blood pressure, and even electrical activity in the brain and heart. This could be incredibly useful for health monitoring, but Motorola sees a different potential. "What we plan to do is work with them to advance a tattoo for authentication," said Dugan. “10- to 20-year-olds might not want to wear a watch on their wrists, but you can bet they will wear a tattoo—if only to piss off their parents.”

Live Smarter
How To Get Past the iPhone-Crashing 'Death Emoji'

The rapid churn of new smart phone hardware and software gives consumers more tech choices at a faster clip. Unfortunately, that schedule can also mean glitches slip through the cracks.

TechRadar is circulating word of the latest bug to affect iPhone and iPad models running iOS 11 software. If a user receives a text message containing a black dot sandwiched between the less-than and greater-than symbols (< >) followed by a left-facing pointing finger emoji, the Messages app will freeze. Quitting and re-opening the app will just return you to the last message viewed.

The bug originated on WhatsApp but migrated to iMessage. If someone with malice on their mind sends you the emoji string, your phone’s text functioning shuts down.

A screen shot of an iPhone with a corrupt emoji message
EverythingApplePro, YouTube

The software gives up because this unique emoji string contains a very long run of invisible Unicode that it simply can’t process all at once.

Fortunately, there's a solution. After your Messages app crashes, use 3D Touch on the Messages icon on your home screen. From there, you can select New Messages and bypass the corrupt emoji string. When you swipe left from the main Messages menu, you’ll be given the option of deleting the problem text. That should restore function.

The bug isn’t strictly limited to iPhones and iPads. Some Macs could be temporarily corrupted by the string as well. Now that Apple is aware of the issue, users can expect a fix shortly.

[h/t TechRadar]

Live Smarter
5 Tips for Cleaning Your Laptop, Both Inside and Out

While you may occasionally clear off your desk and take a Lysol wipe to it, chances are you don't often do the same for your laptop. One 2016 swab-test by an IT training website found that its computer keyboards were home to as many germs as a toilet seat, and its laptop track pads were home to as many as paper money. So yeah, your computer could probably use a wipe down. And while you're at it, clean up a few files, too, as WIRED recommends.

First, before you do anything, make sure to turn your computer off and unplug any external keyboards or computer mice you intend to clean.


Once everything is powered down, you can take a damp cloth or sponge to the exteriors. Don't use anything stronger than a diluted soap, and make sure that you're using as little liquid as possible on a wrung-out microfiber cloth or a sponge. Dummies recommends five parts water, one part mild dish detergent for the job, while Apple cautions against using window cleaners, household cleaners, aerosol sprays, solvents, ammonia, abrasives, or cleaners containing hydrogen peroxide to clean a display screen, as well as spraying anything directly onto your device. After you clean the outside of the laptop case with a damp cloth, wipe everything down again with a dry one to make sure you get rid of any excess liquid.


You want to be extra-careful while cleaning your screen, ensuring that you neither scratch it nor damage it with liquid. To do so, you’ll want to start out with just a dry, microfiber cloth before moving on to anything damp. If that doesn't do the trick, try a microfiber cloth dampened with just water. If all else fails, you can buy specific screen-cleaning wipes designed for the task, or use that same diluted soap mixture as CNET recommends. Again, if you're going to use water, make sure to wring out as much liquid as you can from the sponge or towel so that you don't get your screen all wet. (This will work for your TV screen as well.)


When it comes to cleaning your keyboard, you need to be very cautious about not letting water get in under the keys. Use a can of compressed air or a small vacuum to get rid of any crumbs that might have gotten in between the keys. Hold your keyboard up at a 75° angle while you spray the compressed air inside, rotating the keyboard as you go, to get the most crumbs to fall out. (It should be not-quite vertical, Apple says.) Then, break out a bottle of rubbing alcohol, which evaporates faster than water and won't leave any traces of oil. Use an alcohol-dampened cloth to clean the grease from your keyboard keys, then use Q-tips to clean the areas between the keys. Again, you want to keep things pretty dry, so don't overdo it with the liquid, and don't stick the Q-tip inside the keys—just scrub in the areas between them.


Next, you should tackle the trackpad with another damp, lint-free cloth, cleaning off the oils that have accumulated there with alcohol or water. If you're using a mouse with a sensor (rather than a ball), you can use compressed air to clean out any debris. Then, just wipe the exterior down as you did the rest of your devices.


Once your laptop's outsides are squeaky clean, you may want to clean up some digital junk to keep your computer running smoothly. Delete all the useless screenshots from your desktop, clear out your downloads folder, and empty your trash can. Take a look in your applications, and delete programs that you never use. If you have Mac's latest OS, High Sierra, your laptop will actually do some of this cleanup for you—there is a "reduce clutter" option if you go to About This Mac > Storage. As a last step, you may want to update your operating system and applications.


More from mental floss studios