We live in an age that is somewhat over saturated with images. From Facebook to Instagram, photos are everywhere. Researchers behind a new report published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security found that your brain's response to looking at images -- from President Barack Obama to your favorite food -- could create a future form of super-secure authentication.
The researchers from the State University of New York at Binghamton found that the human brain generates specific neural activity patterns within the first couple of milliseconds of reacting to an image. They analyzed 50 adults 18 to 43 years old and came up with passcodes based on the brain activity generated from looking at images of celebrities, food, and less commonly used words. The passcodes were used to identify individuals with 100 percent accuracy, according to a press release.
The team asked participants to wear an electroencephalogram (EEG) headset as they looked at a series of 500 images. These included a boat, a slice of pizza, actress Anne Hathaway, the word "conundrum," among others. The subjects' brains responded differently to each image.
"When you take hundreds of these images, where every person is going to feel differently about each individual one, then you can be really accurate in identifying which person it was who looked at them just by their brain activity," according to study co-author Sarah Laszlo, who is an assistant professor of psychology.
The researchers published an earlier study in 2015 in the journal Neurocomputing that identified one person of out of a group of 32 using that individual's responses. This is a 97 percent accuracy rate, and this earlier study just used words and not images.
"It's a big deal going from 97 to 100 percent because we imagine the applications for this technology being for high-security situations, like ensuring the person going into the Pentagon or the nuclear launch bay is the right person," Laszlo stressed. "You don't want to be 97 percent accurate for that, you want to be 100 percent accurate."
So, are brain biometrics the new fingerprint? Laszlo thinks so because they can't be stolen by hackers or a malicious third party, for instance, in the way that a finger print or a retina scan can be.
"If someone's fingerprint is stolen, that person can't just grow a new finger to replace the compromised fingerprint -- the fingerprint for that person is compromised forever," she added. "Fingerprints are 'non-cancellable.' Brainprints, on the other hand, are potentially cancellable. So, in the unlikely event that attackers were actually able to steal a brainprint from an authorized user, the authorized user could then 'reset' their brain print."
Zhanpeng Jin, another co-author and assistant professor in the university's departments of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering, said that this would not be used for low-security applications. Maybe that era could come, but it's a long way off.
"We tend to see the applications of this system as being more along the lines of high-security physical locations, like the Pentagon or Air Force Labs, where there aren't that many users that are authorized to enter, and those users don't need to constantly be authorizing the way that a consumer might need to authorize into their phone or computer," Jin said.