Skip to main content

Researchers find way to send passwords through your body to a device

password through you body apple fingerprint scanner ios iphone
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Researchers have discovered a way to send secure passwords through the human body using fingerprint sensors and touchpads on smartphones and laptops.

The computer scientists and electrical engineers from the University of Washington call this an “on-body” transmission, which is authenticated when the device touches the user’s body. Transferring information like a password over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth is the most common and convenient method but it is at risk of interception.

This new technique uses signals that are already being generated by touchpads and phone sensors. The researchers envision the method being used in things like secure doors or accessing medical devices, rather than using a password that’s transmitted over the air or entered into the device itself. It could be particularly helpful in securing medical devices like insulin pumps that transmit data on the patient, according to the researchers.

“Let’s say I want to open a door using an electronic smart lock,” explained one of the study’s authors Merhdad Hessar. “I can touch the doorknob and touch the fingerprint sensor on my phone and transmit my secret credentials through my body to open the door, without leaking that personal information over the air.”

Mark Stone/University of Washington
Mark Stone/University of Washington

These sensors typically receive signals from your fingers. The researchers said they were able to flip this from an input signal to an output signal related to your password or access code data, and pass the information to a receiver on the device.

“What is cool is that we’ve shown for the first time that fingerprint sensors can be re-purposed to send out information that is confined to the body,” said Shyam Gollakota, co-author.

The researchers are presenting their findings at the UbiComp 2016 conference in Germany. They carried out tests on 10 people using an iPhone, Lenovo laptop, Adafruit touchpad, and a number of other fingerprint sensors. The 10 test subjects were of different height, weight, and body type but were all able to generate a transmission between themselves and the device, even while moving.

The transmissions needed to be below 30 megahertz — usually between two and ten megahertz in these tests — and travel through the body, and never over the air, according to the authors. “The receivers can be anywhere — on your leg, chest, hands — and still work,” said Virkam Iyer, another co-author.

The tests transferred between 25 and 50 bits per second, just enough to send a password through the body to a receiver. The method is still in need of further researcher, admitted the University of Washington team, and that will require device manufacturers to provide researchers with greater access to their software for testing.

Editors' Recommendations

Jonathan Keane
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jonathan is a freelance technology journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. He's previously written for publications and sites…
Lenovo sale: Get up to 67% off ThinkPad Laptops, from $600
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 front angled view showing display and keyboard.

Lenovo has a huge laptop sale going on right now with select ThinkPad laptops available from just $600. If you need a new system for your small business, working on the move, or other productivity-focused plans, these are the laptop deals for you. With over a dozen laptops in the sale, it’s a good idea to take a look at the sale for yourself, but we’re also here with some insight into the best deals.

What to shop for in the Lenovo laptop sale
Lenovo is one of the best laptop brands for reliability and business purposes. One great starting point is being able to buy the for $600. According to Lenovo, it normally costs $1,839 which seems a little unrealistic but in keeping with Lenovo’s overly enthusiastic estimated value system. However, whatever the discount, this is a good laptop for the price. It has a 12th-generation Intel Core i5-1235U processor, 16GB of memory, and 256GB of SSD storage. For the display, you get a 14-inch full HD screen with 45% NTSC and 300 nits of brightness. There’s also a 1080p full HD RGB/IR Hybrid webcam with a privacy shutter and dual microphones.

Read more
Ghost of Tsushima is already shaping up to be a monster PC port
Jin wearing the Sarugami armor with Iki island in the background.

Sony detailed the features that will be available in the Ghost of Tsushima PC port on Tuesday, setting the stage for when the game launches on May 16. Despite some rocky PC ports from PlayStation Studios and porting studio Nixxes in the past, Ghost of Tsushima already looks impressive.
Ghost of Tsushima DLSS, FSR, and XeSS
It's launching with all of the modern bells and whistles a PC gamer could want. That includes support for Nvidia's DLSS 3 and AMD's FSR 3, both of which support upscaling and frame generation. There's also support for Intel XeSS, as well as native anti-aliasing modes for FSR and DLSS. This runs the game at native resolution but uses the anti-aliasing of the upscalers for improved image quality -- read our explainer on Nvidia Deep Learning Anti-Aliasing for more on that.

There's a treasure trove of features here that means virtually every PC gamer will have access to performance-boosting tech. FSR 3 support at launch is particularly noteworthy. Adoption of AMD's frame generation tech has been slow, and although we've seen it in recent games, it usually isn't available at launch.

Read more
The 5 best laptops for architects in 2024

Architecture applications tend to require a lot of hardware resources, so laptops that work for architecture tend to be more like workstations than anything else. Of course, that does mean that they come at a pretty steep price, which is why we've picked our favorite laptops that will give you the most bang for your buck. The laptops below should easily handle most architecture applications you throw at them, although if you don't quite find what you're looking for, you may want to check out our list of the best laptops for CAD and 3D modeling.
The Best Laptops for Architects in 2024

Buy the  if you want the best overall laptop for architects
Buy the  if you want the best MacBook for architects
Buy the  if you want the best thin and portable laptop for architects
Buy the  if you want the best large-screen laptop for architects
Buy the  if you want the best dual-screen laptop for architects

Read more