Thumb, Face, and Now Your Sweat Can Unlock Your Phone

November 15, 2017

12:20 pm

While we’re still in the mist of the release of the iPhone X and the new FaceID as the new biometric key to unlocking a smartphone, scientists from the University at Albany are considering your sweat as a more effective biometric identifier to open the doors your personal information.

The first thought that came to my mind was “ew,” I don’t want to go to the gym and then rub my face on my phone to unlock it-fortunately this wouldn’t be the case.

iPhone X design

iPhone X FaceID

JanHalámek, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University at Albany, and principal investigator at The Halámek Lab who is known for groundbreaking forensic biotechnology, is proposing a new biometric-based authentication method to unlocking your smartphone and wearables that comes from our own chemistry makeup-sweat.

“We are developing a new form of security that could completely change the authentication process for electronic devices,” Halámek said in a statement. “Using sweat as an identifier cannot be easily mimicked or hacked by potential intruders. It’s close to full-proof.”

There have already been security concerns, and situations, where someone else has the ability to unlock your phone by obtaining your code, placing your thumb onto a device or holding it in front face. But could your sweat be close to bullet proof?

“There are many internet tutorials on how to create a fingerprint mold that is capable of opening a device. There’s also issues with facial recognition, which often times does not work correctly,” Halámek said.

In an extreme case, a cybersecurity firm successfully tricked the iPhone X FaceID with a specialty mask that looked like a real face using about $150 worth of materials. While the chances of some hacker constructing one’s face out of silicon are slim, tech companies and scientists continue to find new ways to lock down devices via biometry.

Halámek believes that our sweat could be the next biometric that can’t be duplicated.

“Skin secretions contain a large number of metabolites (amino acids) that can be targeted for authentication analysis,” he said.

If this biometric was integrated to a device and the user built a “SweatID,” so to speak, the device would “first have a ‘monitoring period’ in which it would continuously measure its owner’s sweat levels at various times of the day,” Halámek said. “Other factors, including age, biological sex, race and physiological state of the individual would also play a role.”

Another reason sweat could be a viable measure is that it changes depending on one’s eating and exercising regime. The device would monitor the owner throughout the day and learn who its owner is based on the changes.

“I’m asked a lot, ‘what if people steal my sweat,’” Halámek said to ABC News. “The answer is that it would work, but not for long. The sweat will begin to decompose and will not stay stable. Metabolization is not constant. It is not a Social Security number.”

While our sweat could potentially make our devices more secure, the question about the invasion of privacy and protecting our chemistry would be unknown. If or when this comes to fruition with the next generation of mobile devices, make sure to keep a towel with you.

Read more about emerging cyber security methods on TechCo

Read more about the new iPhone X on TechCo

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Tishin is a technology journalist and correspondent. She has written for TechCrunch, Demand Studios and Fitness, and has regular network segments on local Phoenix affiliate stations. She holds a Master's degree in Clinical and Sport psychology, and has covered many areas of technology ranging from 3D printing and game development to neurotech and funding for over 15 years.

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