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Security Technology

Sensor Uses Body's Electrical Signature To Secure Devices 64

Posted by timothy
from the stop-lying-so-you-can-use-your-computer dept.
coondoggie writes with word that a "group of researchers is proposing a sensor that would authenticate mobile and wearable computer systems by using the unique electrical properties of a person's body to recognize their identity. In a paper [presented Monday] at the USENIX Workshop on Health Security and Privacy, researchers from Dartmouth University Institute for Security, Technology, and Society defined this security sensor device, known as Amulet, as a 'piece of jewelry, not unlike a watch, that would contain small electrodes to measure bioimpedance — a measure of how the body's tissues oppose a tiny applied alternating current- and learns how a person's body uniquely responds to alternating current of different frequencies.'"
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Sensor Uses Body's Electrical Signature To Secure Devices

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  • Oh joy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:24AM (#40905089)

    Yet more ways to use "infallible" dowsing rods and iris gazers to "do identity". It always comes down to this: By definition biometrics are easier to fake than to replace. This makes them unsuitable for "casual" identification, as opposed to "adversarial" identification, ie working out it was you that stole the cookie from the jar. We're not all criminals, you know. Worse, most identification isn't adversarial, but casual, and on top of that you don't just have but a single identity. Yet that's what all this is invariably targeted at: adversarial, and just the single identity. Just stop it already. I'll take the inconvenience of using a key to unlock the door, or showing a loyalty card with a fake name on it, thanks. At least that key and its lock can be replaced without surgery.

    • by cayenne8 (626475)
      I was wondering, wouldn't simple weight loss or gain mess with this 'signature'?
      • by Joce640k (829181)

        ...or a hot/cold day.

        • by gmuslera (3436)
          Would add dry or wet to environment, but what about the internal factors, like when tired, or after doing strong physical activity, or changing food diet, or even maybe hormonal activity, could that give different readings, no matter how well built is that device?
          • or even maybe hormonal activity,

            O joy, you are too horny, and now you can no longer log in to your favorite porn site...

      • Re:Oh joy (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Rei (128717) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:57AM (#40905491) Homepage

        I was thinking the same thing. I'd thought of this concept a while back as a "turn almost anything into a key *except* a living organism" approach. That is, if you wanted a really nifty-looking key to your door, it could be some mystic-looking crystal, or some stone sigil, or whatnot. Measure how it interacts with a wide range of AC inputs provided from specific electrodes, and (assuming you have a good mechanism to fit it precisely in place on the same electrodes each time) you've got a unique signature for that object to unlock the door with. I'd think it would be very hard to fake, since trying to tune the shape/composition of a dummy "key" to adjust one frequency will mess with all the others.

        Of course more than security, I was mainly thinking of that from a "wouldn't this be awesome and probably not that hard to implement?" approach.

        • by vlm (69642)

          I'd think it would be very hard to fake, since trying to tune the shape/composition of a dummy "key" to adjust one frequency will mess with all the others.

          Oh boy please talk to some RF EEs before you roll this idea out. Generations of EEs have written books and created careers on this very topic of wide band antenna/matching networks. Its not trivial, but its not really all that hard either. Some of the math is quite icky, but we have computers now.

          it could be some mystic-looking crystal

          Yeah, made out of silicon or germanium and doped with some exotic materials in a odd pattern ... aka a transistor or IC

          Every RF EE since the first wideband transistor circuit has been doing this since the transi

          • by Rei (128717)

            before you roll this idea out.

            "Roll this out"? May I reiterate, "if you wanted a really nifty-looking key to your door" and "I was mainly thinking of that from a "wouldn't this be awesome and probably not that hard to implement?" approach"? You make it sound like trying to revolutionize the world's security. I'm talking about unlocking your front door with a piece of quartz or whatnot.

            Yeah, made out of silicon or germanium and doped with some exotic materials in a odd pattern ... aka a transistor or IC

            I

            • by jank1887 (815982)

              "random object picked up in a field or thrift store used as a key".

              doesn't matter. that thing will have a characteristic impedance that can likely be emulated by a not-too-difficult-to-make matching network. you might as well just have a keypad.

              • by Rei (128717)

                you might as well just have a keypad.

                What part of a "this is from a wouldn't it be awesome to open your door with a rock" perspective, not a "this is the bestest-security-ever-conceived" perspective, is difficult? I mean, a keypad? Really?

                . that thing will have a characteristic impedance that can likely be emulated by a not-too-difficult-to-make matching network.

                Across a super-wide frequency range from multiple contact points on its surface? I really doubt it.

      • by kanweg (771128)

        Excellent! So, you can't get fat from all those candy bars because the vending machine will stop selling them to you.

        Bert

    • What about your cat's name?
    • by jank1887 (815982)

      or, put in car analogy terms:

      if functional, this could be useful for your car to identify who you most likely are for the purposes of automatically implementing your custom settings for seat position, climate control, radio stations, etc. But NOT for granting access to or starting the car. And definitely not for determining to whom to send the automated red light camera ticket.

    • by redizhot (2692045)
      Why is everyone here so sure it would be so easy to fake? What am I missing here?
  • by cvtan (752695) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:25AM (#40905093)
    In cybersecurity news, it was found today that a mannequin made of jello and floating grapes successfully duplicated the unique electrical signature of Mark Zuckerberg's body.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Device generates the signature, then it exists in a digital form and can be replicated or spoofed.

    • by Rei (128717)

      What good does the fact that a lock knows the digital signature of its key do for you unless you plan to physically compromise the lock using to get the code out?

    • by vlm (69642)

      Device generates the signature, then it exists in a digital form and can be replicated or spoofed.

      From a hacking perspective thats the best news ever

      a measure of how the body's tissues oppose a tiny applied alternating current - and learns how a person's body uniquely responds to alternating current of different frequencies

      Decades (centuries?) of RF EE work revolves around RF matching network behavior. Essentially its measuring how you'll behave as an antenna or at least a wildly reactive dummy load (aka rf termination). This has the interesting side effect that given nothing other than the physical coupling design inferred visually and some time with the victim and my network analyzer I can whip up a custom little SMD circuit board made completely out of passives that woul

  • by hamjudo (64140) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:29AM (#40905143) Homepage Journal
    Electrical properties of living creatures are not really known for being stable, particularly among sick people, the intended users for this device. Good thing that the summary has so little to do with the paper, because the summary is pretty silly
    • by Turken (139591)

      That's what I was wondering too. Or what happens when someone has a significant weight loss or gain? Lots of geeks tend to have a good layer of natural insulation. Plenty of ways for the body's electrical signature to change.

      I suppose it might be an incentive to get fit and stay fit, though. "Sorry, the fat (errr... electrical) signature of the person attempting to access this computer does not match our records. Go work out some more and try again next week."

    • by NFN_NLN (633283)

      Electrical properties of living creatures are not really known for being stable, particularly among sick people, the intended users for this device. Good thing that the summary has so little to do with the paper, because the summary is pretty silly

      Umm.. yeah.. that is a feature of the device. If your signature deviates slightly it can tell you are getting sick and alerts your Doctor.
      It's a feature.

  • Calling it Amulet while having the form factor of a watch is somewhat misleading, I was thinking how a necklace could possibly have a secure enough interface to the body to measure the required responses.

    But that's the least of my worries. Body impedance can be dependent on quite a lot of things, such as hydration, and skin resistance, which is again dependent on many factors, such as the temperature, stress, etc. Could such a small device carry a sophisticated enough algorithm to reliably and quickly accou

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Probably calling it amulet would be pretty fitting, it would be pure luck if it manage to uniquely identify you in all possible situations.
    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      Calling it Amulet while having the form factor of a watch is somewhat misleading, I was thinking how a necklace could possibly have a secure enough interface to the body to measure the required responses.

      Obviously the best solution is to call it a "life clock crystal" and have it embedded in the palm of your right hand.
      Unfortunately, the crystal has... side effects, the most onerous being sudden death on your 21st birthday.

  • Seriously, the first four comments are all about how easy this will be to fake out!
    I'm going to make a comment about how awesome science is.
    SCIENCE!

  • Biometric is great, but it's only useful locally to the biometric hardware. Beyond that, all there is is ones and zeroes, whether they originated from a biometric sig or not. I suppose you could use these biometrics to generate a key pair...but then you have a problem both of non-repudiation (the actual bits of the private key are compromised...what can you do?) and unintentional repudiation (I'm pregnant, now I can't log into my bank account).
  • If it's looking for bioelectrical signatures, it likely will have more trouble identifying you when you are dehydrated, drunk, high, out of breath (from running or experiencing a heart-attack), etc...

    I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I can't let you do that right now because you are not Dave...

    On the other hand, if you loosened the identification threshold so these kind variations didn't matter, there probably wouldn't be much entropy left in that identification scheme. Someone with a simliar height and build woul

  • by sinij (911942) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:48AM (#40905389) Journal
    Perhaps this is the next amazing biometric authentication technology that can accurately identify users without any false positives... This still don't change the problem that like all other biometric data it cannot be re-issued if ever compromised.
  • Just a small nitpick (the error is in the article too).. It's Dartmouth College, not Dartmouth University... ( Those that love Dartmouth will be quick to point this out.. It stems from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dartmouth_College_v._Woodward [wikipedia.org] )
  • I'm sure it works great - until you rub a balloon on your head! One simple party trick and boom! You're locked out of everything!
  • I was just thinking about this the other day! This would be great for these modern bathroom scales to id the user - the impedance measure only needs enough accuracy to distinguish between the family members whose weight is close enough. They already measure impedance for body fat anyhow.
    But I also wondered how much your signatures would change if you, let's say, drank a bottle of beer, or ate something salty.

  • So that's how the alien weaponry in District 9 worked. Alien physiology would be significantly different from human, and the guns could only be used when one of those aliens held it.

  • The interaction between chemistry, biology & electro-magnetics is fascinating for me.

    In the Anglophone world we have books like "The Body Electric". In Chinese and Russian there's much, much more. There's a sense we're building on 100's years of science (I use that term in a definition you may not agree with).

    I was able to alter my bioimpedence using my mind in a test at the science museum in London. I'd like to know if it was just me passing harder on the contacts or sweating a bit more...

    Where can I r

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