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Could EarEcho change the way we authenticate our phones? – Naked Security

Security Watch

Could EarEcho change the way we authenticate our phones? – Naked Security


We’re used to identifying ourselves to our phones using our fingers, our faces, and even our irises, but now, researchers are targeting a new piece of our body that they say could be the perfect identifier: The inside of our ears.

Researchers at University at Buffalo, State University of New York and Syracuse University have discovered a way to use wireless earbuds as a biometric authentication system. Called EarEcho, it uses a small microphone inserted in a regular pair of wireless earbuds. When the earbuds play audio, it records the sound that bounces back from the ear canal, creating a unique profile of the user’s inner ear.

EarEcho feeds the audio that the microphone picks up into a support vector machine (SVM), which is a machine learning model that learns how to identify the user’s unique ear pattern.

The result is an accurate verification method, according to their paper. It tested the system on 20 subjects, listening to five different pieces of prerecorded conversation in different environments such as a shopping mall, a cafe, and the street. It reached around 97.5% accuracy when identifying people based on just three seconds of audio, it reported.

More secure than other biometrics?

Fingerprints may be among the most popular biometric authentication methods, say the researchers, but they argue it is also subject to spoofing attacks. They also criticise facial recognition, and specifically Apple’s FaceID, for the same reason (researchers claim to have spoofed Apple’s technology before and we know there are use cases that it has difficulty coping with). Earbud-based authentication is a better idea, they added:

With the popularization of wireless earphones, more and more users are getting used to wearing earphones while working, studying or strolling…

Compared with face IDs, fingerprints and voiceprints, the EarEcho presents a more unobtrusive authentication approach with great usability potentials.

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