Photo: NEC
Photo: NEC

Human ears to become the next authentication factor

At present, scanners in phones, PCs use either fingerprints or the iris scan to grant access to secure data. Now a person's ears may be used to verify their identity

Authenticate your identity with your fingerprint. Or your iris scan. Or, just by keeping your ear open.

The most common biometric checks are done by scanning fingerprints on smartphones, tablets and new laptops. Many computing devices use lasers to scan iris. The latest to join the biometrics list is the human ear.

Tech company NEC Corp, in collaboration with Nagaoka University of Technology, has come up with a technology that takes advantage of the unique shape of an individual’s ears to verify identity. Earhole shapes are unique and produces a unique echo to sound passing through it, which can be detected by the correct sensors. NEC has developed an earpiece that contains a microphone and a speaker that can do exactly the correct reading of the echo.

When a biometric check is done using the ear, several hundred milliseconds of audio signals are emitted by the speaker into the human ear. These signals will travel through the external auditory canal, eardrum, middle ear and internal ear. The microphone in the earpiece will pick up the reflected echo. Developers say that it takes less than a second to authenticate the correct identity of the person wearing the earpiece.

Photo: NEC
Photo: NEC

“Since the new technology does not require particular actions such as scanning a part of the body over an authentication device, it enables a natural way of conducting continuous authentication, even during movement and while performing work, simply by wearing an earphone with a built-in microphone to listen to the sounds within ears," said Shigeki Yamagata, general manager, Information and Media Processing Laboratories, NEC.

The advantages? Accuracy and speed. For a fingerprint scan, it takes manual effort, and sometimes accuracy is hampered by conditions such as sweaty fingers or dirt on the scanner. For the eye scan, a user has to make a considerable effort to get recognized by the cameras, which can sometimes get stumped by ambient lighting and reflections.

For the audio-based authentication, just wearing the earpiece naturally does the trick. But, do not expect to see this in smartphones or your computing devices anytime soon. NEC plans to make this commercially available in 2018, and it may take a couple of years before the gadgets that we buy come with this tech integrated.

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