Using Your Heartbeat as Biometric Authentication

vector background with pulse

If there’s one thing the technology world loves, it’s a battle for competing standards. There was the battle between VHS and Betamax in the late 1907s, the battle between brushed and brushless servo motors, and of course iPhone vs. Android.  This narrative has repeated itself in different industries as new technologies attempt to supplant the industry standard, and convince consumers to adopt them. Interestingly, it appears the latest arena where this could play out is in the field of biometric authentication.

The fingerprint and the heartbeat

The industry standard, currently, is the fingerprint: millions use their fingerprint to access their mobile phones and computers every day. This makes sense given that fingerprints are unique to each person, and no two people have ever been found to have the same fingerprint. They have been used for over 100 years to identify criminals, and fingerprints do not change over time.

However, a Toronto-based firm called Nymi believes it has a better way: use the heartbeat. The team has developed a biometric algorithm to identify a user’s unique cardiac rhythm using an embedded electrocardiogram (ECG). The ECG sensor embedded in the wristband can match the wearer’s rhythm against a stored profile and verify the user’s identity. If the heartbeats match, they are good to go. Nymi’s goal is that this secure biometric wristband can be a one-stop authentication point to do everything from opening your IPad to unlocking your car. The company is even launching a first-of-its-kind pilot program in partnership with MasterCard and Royal Bank of Canada to allow a biometric payment system.

But is the heartbeat authentication really better than fingerprint authentication? According to Nymi, the answer is yes. No one can lift your ECG in the ways that fingerprints can leave behind latent samples. Even for the sake of convenience, the Nymi wristband only asks you to identify yourself once at the start of your day and then you’re good for the rest of the day. Under the current setup, how many times per day are we asked to verify our identity?

There’s still a lot to be done with using heartbeats to biometric authentication, of course. But given that Apple is already thinking in terms of the Heartbeat for the Apple Watch, and more wearable tech seems to be coming with built-in heart rate monitors, we may just see the heartbeat gain ground in its battle with the fingerprint.


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