Iris-scanning technology promises to kill the password with the launch of a new smartphone that looks into users’ eyes to unlock it.
NTT Docomo, uses an infrared LED and a special camera to snap a picture of the iris of a person’s eye.
The phone recognises the hidden unique pattern of the iris, which is set after about the age of two and is difficult to forge. Unlike fingerprints, the iris is protected and does not suffer from wear and tear, while its shape is easier to predict and model than that of a face as it is flatter and only changes in an area controlled by the pupil reflex.
Like fingerprints, however, iris scanners have been fooled by high-quality images of an iris.
From border patrol to smartphones
Multiple biometric technologies – those that use parts of the body that are unique to the individual – are vying to replace the username and password system that has proved to be too easy to break by hackers and too hard for users to remember consistently, leading to dangerous password reuse and lax security practices.
Fingerprint scanners, for instance, have been used on computers since 2000. But it was their introduction into portable devices such as smartphones and improvements in reliability and speed of recognition that made them viable as password replacement systems.
Iris-recognition systems promise to be harder to fool and easier to use without needing contact with a device. They have been in use for the past 15 years, frequently as systems of recognition and control of border crossings. The United Arab Emirates has used iris recognition at land, air and seaports since 2001. The UK also implemented an iris-recognition system for immigration in 2004, but it was phased out by 2013.
Most implementations of iris-recognition systems work at a distances of 10cm. Fujitsu’s miniaturised system can operate at a standard smartphone operating distance.
Fujitsu claims its new scanner will be faster and more accurate than face recognition, which is a common feature in Android devices, and can be used as part of a new online authentication system in the same way fingerprints are used on high-end smartphones from Samsung, Huawei and Apple.
Demonstrations of the new phone took a couple of seconds to recognise the user, but Docomo chief executive Kaoru Kato claimed that the scanner’s accuracy would improve and therefore speed up each time a person uses the feature.
Fujitsu is not the only company working on iris-recognition technology. Chinese smartphone manufacturer ZTE launched a smartphone with the technology earlier this year, while the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer Samsung has recently filed patents for iris recognition.