Alternatives to the Password

What do your smartphone, bank account, online medical records and social media accounts have in common? All are password-protected (though hopefully not all by the same password). Despite your efforts to create secure passwords, challenges remain: passwords are easy to hack and hard to remember. Take heart: here are password alternatives, ranging from those with growing prevalence to those that remain obscure.

  • Two-Factor Authentication – As the name suggests, users first provide a password, and then provide a code from a text message or smartphone app as a secondary form of authentication. MIT Technology Review’s Tom Simonite credits this option as Google’s current favorite solution, noting that it may not remain in favor because text messages and apps can also be intercepted, and the database tracking authorized users isn’t immune to tampering, either.
  • Personalized USB Keys– Users connect their unique key with their account, then plug into a computer to log in. Google says Chrome comes equipped with an extension that can work with these keys – and effectively become the master.
  • Your Body – Officially called biometric authentication, your body offers a slew of potential ways to replace passwords. Wearable tech like the Nymi wristband measures your pulse – which is unique to each individual. This type of wireless identification could expand outside computers, unlocking (or, locking up, rather) to in-store payments, vehicles and homes. Your gait, face, fingerprints, irises, voice and typing speed all hold potential for measurement and security. While pulse may pose challenges to observe casually, fingerprints and facial images are more ubiquitous, and could be susceptible to hacking.
  • Random Images – Related to two-factor authentication and USB keys, this approach provides users with a piece of pre-recorded information, incorporating them into a users’ smartphone. A new app called Clef brings uses a unique image on the phone to log in users. The image is temporary, randomly generated and short-lived (30 seconds), which means it can’t be stolen.
  • QR Code – Users scan a QR code on their computer screen stored on their phones, which authorizes the login. Considering most new phones require a user’s fingerprint log in (biometric authentication), an extra layer of security is added.
  • Random and Temporary – In March 2015, Yahoo revealed a proposal for a system-generated random and temporary code. Users receive it by SMS every time they log in. Proponents laud this approach for eliminating the need to create a secure password – and then protect and remember it. Opponents highlight the possibility of the SMS message being available on a locked screen as well if the phone is lost or stolen.
  • Selfie – Users click a quick selfie before entering a system. Mastercard’s technology foils would-be hackers from using images: they require users to blink prior to scanning their face to eliminate using a picture.
  • Edible Pills – Google VP of Advanced Technology and Projects Regin Dugan unveiled this idea in 2013, noting this would be safe for a person (up to 30 pills daily). After being ingestible, the pill would mix with users’ stomach acid, emitting “a unique, low power signal that connects with your PC,” Business Insider reports.
  • Implants – Yes, really. Some have already volunteered to embed a small radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip under their skin, where a radio signal can log on to email – not to mention unlock an office door and start a car, at least, according to the theory. In the meantime, if you’re struggling to create secure passwords for your various accounts, check out our infographic on strengthening your password.

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