Cognitive fingerprints might replace computer passwords

September 12, 2012 - 

The goal of cognitive fingerprints is to create a computer password that a user is not consciously aware of.

Cognitive fingerprints are the latest biometric mode developed by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The institute has created a software-based authentication tool called covert-conditioned biometrics. How does it work? An article in Herald Online explained that the technology uses a unique sequence of problem-solving moves to distinguish between a legitimate user and an identity thief. It incorporates principles of adaptive learning, behavior modification and game theory to capture and discriminate aspects of the cognitive fingerprint that authenticate a user’s identity.

Jenifer Wheeler, of SwRI’s Aerospace Electronics, Systems Engineering and Training Division noted that through a covert game, the authenticated user develops strategies unknown to her or him that form the basis of the password. She said: “While legitimate users will unconsciously learn how to overcome the anomalies, imposters who have never seen the anomalies will respond differently, triggering an alert within the authentication system.”

The project, which was developed in conjunction with Sentier Strategic Resources LLC, took nine months, and was undertaken in four phases. The four major phases were: collecting behavioral information on computer use; the design and development phase; determining which covert game-like interactions best authenticate users; and final evaluation with volunteer participants.

Sentier was chosen as a partner in the development of the cognitive fingerprint technology because of its experience in cognitive psychology and human-subjects testing.

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About T'ash Spenser

T’ash Spencer writes full time for She has 15 years experience in the field of regional planning and earned her Master’s of Science in Regional Development Planning and Management from the University of Dortmund, Germany. Follow her @tashspencer1.