Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, say they're studying the feasibility of brainwave-based computer authentication as a substitute for passwords.
Biometrics -- fingerprint scans, retina scans, or facial or voice recognition -- have long been seen as more secure for computer authentication than passwords, hard to forge or steal, but such systems have proven to be slow, intrusive and expensive, the researchers from Berkeley's School of Information said.
Recent developments in biosensor technologies could make using electroencephalograms, or brainwave measurements -- "passthoughts" -- for computer authentication possible, they reported.
New consumer-grade headsets using just a single dry-contact sensor resting against the user's forehead could provide an EEG signal from the brain's left frontal lobe.
"Other than the EEG sensor, the headset is indistinguishable from a conventional Bluetooth headset for use with mobile phones, music players and other computing devices," the Berkeley researchers said.
The team conducted experiments to determine whether the signal would be of sufficient quality for accurate authentication, since a computer would need to be able to accurately and consistently distinguish a user's brainwave patterns from someone else's.
Computers that recognize a user from brainwaves might seem a distant possibility, but the experiments show the principle is workable, the researchers said.
"We find that brainwave signals, even those collected using low-cost non-intrusive EEG sensors in everyday settings, can be used to authenticate users with high degrees of accuracy," the researchers said in presenting their work at the at the 17th International Conference on Financial Cryptography and Data Security in Okinawa, Japan.