The Extinction of Passwords

Currently, passwords are total chaos. In fact, most people have terrible passwords that are easy for hackers to guess. Even worse, many people use the same password for all their accounts, and they haven’t changed their password for years. So all a hacker has to do is guess the password once and they’ll have access to the user’s entire life. And while we were all advised to change our passwords after the recent Heartbleed attack, very few of us actually did.


Since we’re not really managing our passwords appropriately, it’s time to get rid of the hassle of passwords and use something with more data points and that is unique to each individual. This is where advanced biometrics comes into the picture. Thanks to advanced biometrics, we are getting close to making passwords go away ... and I say, “Good riddance!” Here are a few of the biometrics coming to your smart phone, tablet, or laptop soon.

• Facial Recognition: Today’s facial recognition is extremely advanced and can separate you from millions of other individuals very quickly. In fact, several years ago I developed an app for the military to use during emergency response situations. Using the app and cameras installed around the base, the military personnel can identify every person on the premises and know exactly where each individual is—all using facial recognition. In everyday use, you already have a high-quality camera in your smart phone that could interface with a facial recognition app. And since facial recognition for identification will be 3D rather than 2D, someone can’t hold up a picture of you to bypass the security. So this is certainly a great biometric that is much more secure than a password.

• Fingerprint Recognition: Apple already has fingerprint readers on their latest iPhone, and other manufacturers are following. Of course, we’ve been using fingerprint plug-ins for laptops at the enterprise level for many years. One of the more advanced fingerprint techniques emerging is to read the blood vessel pattern underneath your skin. Now that Apple has starting using this on their smart phones, this represents the beginning of a more widespread use of biometrics.

• Eye Recognition: Eye scans for identification have been around for a long time. Early versions used a laser to read the blood vessel pattern of your retina. Today, you don’t have to use a laser. All it takes to identify you is a simple scan of your eye with a light you will not even notice.

• Voice Recognition: Everyone’s voice is unique. So by just talking to your smart phone or into your computer’s microphone, you’ll be able to verify that you really are you. While voice recognition has not been covered much in the press, it’s coming on strong.

• Heart Rate Recognition: Just like the other biometrics, everyone’s heartbeat is unique. Soon your devices will be able to get your pulse from your thumb, just like a fingerprint reader, and use that to identify you.

• Behavioral Profile Recognition: This refers to how you behave when using your device. For example, how you type is unique to you, including your speed and cadence when typing. Another example is how you hold your phone when using it. Since our devices have so many different sensors embedded, it’s easy to determine whether you are really the one using the device.

The point of all these biometrics is to ensure you’re you when using your device and accessing your many online accounts. After all, if your credit card information is stolen or your phone or other device gets into the wrong hands, you want to make sure someone else can’t use it, especially with so much sensitive financial and personal data people store these days.

As I see it, we’ll soon use one biometric for simple password replacement for things that are not vital, but we will use multiple biometrics for things that need more security. For example, if I’m accessing my social media, I might use one biometric. If I’m using a credit card online, I might use two biometrics. If I’m logging into my bank account or doing a securities trade, I might use three or four biometrics to make it even harder for someone to get in and hack my account. And best of all, you won’t have to remember all those passwords. All you’ll have to do is use your own body’s biometrics.

So it’s time to say good-bye to passwords and hello to biometrics … and hello to a more secure online experience.

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Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.