New technology uses the way you walk as a password

What if your mobile phone or smartwatch could analyse your walking style for authentication?

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

Walk this way.

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The way you walk could one day be the "fingerprint" that unlocks your phone. A a small wearable protoype developed at the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's Data61 lab not only uses the kinetic energy created as you walk to generate power, but it also turns the user's gait into a unique authentication. The paper can be read online here.

The device monitors the pattern of power generation caused by the gait's kinetic energy. As the movement creates small dips and troughs in the amount of energy being generated, the device is able to resolve it into a unique signature. The device can also provide backup power for mobile devices using kinetic energy harvesting (KEH).

"By applying both techniques we have developed a way to achieve two goals at once -- powering devices and the ability to verify a person's identity using a wearable device by capturing the energy generated from the way they walk," said Data61 researcher Sara Khalifa in a statement.

The team tested the device on 20 people on a variety of terrains. It was able to authenticate based on gait with 95 percent accuracy and reduced energy consumption by 78 percent compared to accelerometer-based gait authentication, a method that is easier to achieve.

When devices that had been authenticated to a particular gait were tested on "impostors" who attempted to mimic the owner's movements, they only accepted the wrong user 13 times out of 100 -- indicating that refinement is required, but the developers are on the right track.

"It's more secure than passwords because the way we walk is difficult to mimic," said Dali Kafaar, group leader of Data61's Networks Research Group. "Since the KEH-gait keeps authenticating the user continuously, it collects a significant amount of information about our movements, making it difficult to imitate or hack unlike guessing passwords or pin codes."

The team is also exploring other physical options for authentication, such as breathing patterns and the way users interact with their devices.

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