Replacing passwords and PINs with your heartbeat

We’ve been hearing for a while now that passwords will soon become a thing of the past and, as it seems now, biometric authentication is likely to take their place.

The latest innovation in this field comes from Canadian startup Bionym, whose team created Nymi, a bracelet / wristband containing an ECG (electrocardiogram) sensor that “reads” the unique heartbeat pattern of the wearer and uses it to authenticate into a variety of electronic devices (cars, computers, smartphones, TVs, etc.).

“It was actually observed over 40 years ago that ECGs had unique characteristics,” Bionym CEO Karl Martin pointed out to Tech Hive. “The modern research into practical systems goes back about 10 years or so. What we do is ultimately look for the unique features in the shape of the wave that will also be permanent over time. The big breakthrough was a set of signal-processing and machine-learning algorithms that find those features reliably and to turn them into a biometric template.”

“When you clasp the Nymi around your wrist it powers on. By placing a finger on the topside sensor while your wrist is in contact with the bottom sensor, you complete an electrical circuit. After you feel a vibration and see the LEDs illuminate, your Nymi knows you are you and your devices will too. You will stay authenticated until your Nymi is taken off,” it’s explained on the firm’s website.

“The Nymi functions on a 3-factor security system. To take control of your identity you must have your Nymi, your unique heartbeat and an Authorized Authentication Device (AAD), which would be a smartphone or device registered with our app.”

No details about the security of the bracelet have been share on the site, but Ars Technica‘s Dan Goodin has pumped Martin for information and, so far, the news is good: elliptic curve cryptography to ensure data traveling between the bracelet and the device can’t be monitored and intercepted by attackers, and encrypted handshake performed between the bracelet and the devices being unlocked.

“The Nymi also has motion sensing and proximity detection that allows users to perform remote, gesture-specific commands, creating a dynamic and interactive environment,” it is explained. “A simple twist of the wrist can unlock your car door.”

More details about both the hardware and software designs will be published in the following months, and hopefully the device will go through some formal and rigorous security testing (it hasn’t so far).

For those who want to try it out, the Nymi can be preordered on the company website, and (for now) costs $79. Shipping will start early 2014. The company is also hoping that other developers might want to try to incorporate the bracelet into their offerings.

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