Ears’ in-built passwords may help curb call-centre, banking frauds

April 14th, 2009 - 11:43 am ICT by ANI  

London, April 14 (ANI): Human ears have a quality that may one day help boost the security of call-centre and telephone-banking transactions, and reduce the need for people to remember numerous identification codes.

Stephen Beeby, an engineer at the University of Southampton in the UK, points out that the ear not only senses sound but also makes noises of its own, albeit at a level only detectable by supersensitive microphones.

Should such noises prove unique to each individual, he believes, they may act as natural passwords to improve security against fraudulent activities.

He surmises that noises unique to individuals could even help render stolen cellular phones useless, by programming the sets to disable themselves if they detect that the user of the phone is not the legitimate owner.

Calling the ear-generated sounds otoacoustic emissions (OAEs), the researcher revealed that they emanate from within the spiral-shaped cochlea in the inner ear.

Beeby says that such sounds are thought to be produced by the motion of hair cells within the outer part of the cochlea.

OAEs can be provoked when a series of clicks is played into the ear. Click tests are already used to check newborn babies’ ears for signs of hearing difficulties, since the OAEs are weaker if the inner ear is defective.

“Anecdotally, audiologists say they can tell different people apart - men, women, even people of different ethnic origins - by the profile of the widely varying types of emissions the clicks evoke,” New Scientists magazine quoted him as saying.

With financial aid coming from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Beeby and his colleagues are trying to determine whether OAE patterns can be used in biometry, like iris scans or fingerprints.

“In the controlled conditions of a lab, everybody’s emissions are indeed different, but whether this is a practical way of telling people apart as a real-world biometric still needs a lot of work,” he says.

The researcher, however, admits that a lot of work needs to be done before it could finally be answered whether this is a practical way of telling people apart as a real world biometric. (ANI)

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