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Unhackable brain scans may some day replace passwords

Published Feb 5th, 2016 8:55PM EST

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Security breaches affecting millions of users have come to light in recent years, yet we’re no better at protecting our personal data, or at picking good passwords, than we were before. But some companies are already looking at new ways to secure customer data that go beyond passwords and PINs. Fingerprint sensors are found on more and more smartphones in recent years, and retina scanners are coming too. But in the future, we may have an even more advanced way of logging into online services and protecting our data: Brain scans.

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Don’t get too excited just yet, because brain scanners won’t be built into smartphones and laptops overnight. While it will obviously take time for this tech to develop, some researchers have already devised ways to identify users with brain scans. The system works almost flawlessly and can’t be fooled, which would mean hackers would have a much tougher time cracking your systems.

The technology is pretty simple, actually. Scientists from the Binghamton University have developed Brainprint, a device that uses an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap to present 500 images to the user at the rate of two per second. The brain’s responses to the pictures create unique readouts that allow special software to pick out one person in 30 with 100% accuracy, Science Alert reports.

The problem with the system is that it can’t be fitted onto just any device, as you can see in the image above. But its accuracy is definitely impressive and it could lay the groundwork for future solutions that can be integrated into devices more easily.

Brainprint shows users images like a slice of pizza, actress Anne Hathaway, the word “conundrum,” and more, all meant to illicit certain responses. The more images it uses, the less likely anyone would be able to replicate the brain’s responses to them.

“When you take hundreds of these images, where every person is going to feel differently about each individual one, then you can be really accurate in identifying which person it was who looked at them just by their brain activity,” lead researcher Sarah Laszlo said.

Researchers have studied whether the system can be hacked, and so far they have been unable to crack it. Better yet, the system is so good that it might even leave you locked out of your own accounts, depending on your brain activity during login attempts. The theory is that you wouldn’t be able to log into anything if you were held at gunpoint or were otherwise under duress, since the brain’s activity changes as it adapts to deal with a potentially life-threatening situation.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.