U.S. Markets close in 6 hrs 28 mins

Tapping into a new security trend

The system uses vibrations to identify the finger, rather than the code it is tapping or pattern it is swiping

Engineers at Rutgers University may have put their finger on a very secure but inexpensive way of allowing people to access everything from their homes to their cars without the need for a key or for complex biometric measures.

Fingerprint sensors, voice recognition, iris scans and facial recognition may all be very secure ways of consumers being able to convince their digital devices that they are who they say they are, but until the technology behind such systems becomes affordable and widespread, they won't be moving beyond flagship smartphones or banking services any time soon.

But with VibWrite, a new smart access system developed by a team led by professor Yingying Chen and outlined in a paper published Monday, all you could need to securely unlock or lock your car or your home is the touch of a finger.

"Everyone's finger bone structure is unique, and their fingers apply different pressures on surfaces, so sensors that detect subtle physiological and behavioral differences can identify and authenticate a person," said professor Chen, who works in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

We're all familiar with using our finger to tap in a pin code on an iPhone, or trace an unlocking pattern on an Android phone and we're equally familiar with the fear that someone nefarious may spy said pin or pattern and then purloin and start using our devices.

And while VIbWrite can be used with a pin or unlock pattern, rather than validating the password, its ability to measure pressure and vibrations passing through the finger bone means that it's confirming the person doing the taping or swiping is the rightful owner. It means that even if someone else knows the pin, they can type it in but won't be able to unlock the object in question.

"Smart access systems that use fingerprinting and iris-recognition are very secure, but they're probably more than 10 times as expensive as our VibWrite system, especially when you want to widely deploy them," said Chen.

What's more, rather than being confined to a touchscreen, the system can be potentially integrated into any flat surface, meaning that a tap or swipe on a car door or fender or even its windshield could be enough to open it.

In early tests in laboratory conditions, the system performed with 95% accuracy and according to Chen and her team, with some improvements, "VibWrite probably could be commercialized in a couple of years," she said.