Date
20 October 2017
A Cambridge University researcher is working on a personal electronic security system that would not rely on people remembering passwords. Photo: Bloomberg
A Cambridge University researcher is working on a personal electronic security system that would not rely on people remembering passwords. Photo: Bloomberg

Electronic aura may unlock door to data security

Some people have a distinctive magnetism that marks them out from the crowd, like the signal one penguin sends so its mate or chick can find it in a colony of thousands of birds.

Now one researcher in Britain thinks a similar idea could be the key to future electronic security. The Guardian reports that Frank Stajano, reader in security at Cambridge University’s computer laboratory, has been awarded a £1 million (US$1.7 million) grant from the European Union to develop a personal security system that doesn’t rely on passwords.

Stajano’s idea is that instead of punching in passwords or PINs to use electronic devices we have a WiFi-like electronic field that extends for a meter or so around us and verifies us to our machines. The machines would only work within the range of the “aura”. For example, electronic keys that unlock car doors would only operate they picked up a signal coming from the rightful user. Any mixed signals and the doors would stay closed.

Stajano is aiming to go one secure step further with what he calls a Pico, a device that could store a multitude of log-ins and passwords for anything from credit cards to smartphones. The device would automatically unlock itself and summon the user’s log-ins and passwords within the right aura’s field but be useless outside of it. 

“The Pico solution scales to thousands of credentials, provides continuous authentication and is resistant to brute force guessing, dictionary attacks, phishing and keylogging,” he said.

There’s still a lot of work to be done on the idea, Stajano tells the Guardian, but it could be the key to cracking the code of longer-term electronic security.

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