How Wearables Could Read Your Body Vibrations as a Security Measure

October 19, 2017

2:30 pm

I’ve chatted with plenty of security experts in my role as a senior writer here at TechCo, and they all agree on one thing: Security concerns won’t be going away in the future. More than one expert has drawn a comparison to an arms race, as hackers work to jump through new security loopholes faster than security professionals can close them.

That race has led to entirely new ways to access someone’s identity. The latest? Wearables that can be paired with voice security measures in order to read the vibrations of your body as you speak.

How It Works

Kang Shin, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan, is working with a team to develop a device, called VAuth, which can be used in a necklace, eyeglasses or ear buds. An accelerometer tracks the vibrations on the surface of the users’ neck, face, or chest, syncing them with the sound of the user’s voice. It’s a form of two-way authentication.

“Increasingly, voice is being used as a security feature but it actually has huge holes in it,” Kang Shin told The Engineer. “If a system is using only your voice signature, it can be very dangerous. We believe you have to have a second channel to authenticate the owner of the voice.”

This type of physically verified security is significantly more difficult to hack or trick than the virtual kind, even if it can be a bit unwieldy.

Good Vibrations

Audio is an increasingly important medium for tech interfaces, since the evolution of AI is making tools like Siri or Alexa more and more capable. What are the huge holes that audio verification runs into? First, it’s not easy to keep a secret, since we use our voices in public daily. Second, if it’s ever compromised, we can’t exactly change it.

How well does VAuth handle itself? The team tested it on 18 users, with 30 voice commands, and it earned a solid 97-percent detection accuracy. You can check out the entire study here. Now you just need to start convincing your boss to install one of these security systems in the office. Sure, you might not work at the Pentagon, but there’s nothing wrong with being prepared.

Read more about the evolution of security at TechCo

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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