I have heard a lot about biometrics - granted, almost everything I know about biometrics comes from action-packed spy movies and T.V. series - but I've only been one place that uses any form of biometric security. Thank you, Disney World, for using biometric finger scanners to get into your parks. You make my life complete in so many unintentional ways.


For all intents and purposes, biometrics is still in that scary, futuristic niche of rigorous governmental or corporate information control. Fingerprint scanners, retina scans, and voice recognition, while secure, suffer from multiple problems, such as expense and speed, which prevent the widespread use of biometrics. Plus, using biometric information is creepy, invasive, and brings out privacy advocates faster than Google or Facebook. It's safe to say that this is a niche industry and most people won't encounter full-fledged biometrics unless they're working in a high-security area or law enforcement.


You would think that brainwave readers would be even more problematic. However, as you may have guessed, this may not be the case anymore. New innovations in consumer-grade biosensor technology might catapult brainwave "passthoughts" to the head of the biometric industry.


You may have seen the brainwave-controlled cat ears before or heard about the brainwave-controlled tail. Both of those products have made the blog rounds, and the cat ears are available on ThinkGeek. ThinkGeek also sells the base headset that can be used, among other things, to control robots.


The geniuses over at UC Berkley's School of Information took this readily available headset and started to run experiments to see if the headsets could be used for computer authentication, which it could.


Using customized thought tasks, the researchers reduced errors to below 1%. This is a better rate than I have typing out passwords. According to the research team, the best way to use a brainwave authentication system is to pick out thought tasks that are relatively easy but not too boring, like mentally counting a number of objects in a certain color or focusing on their breathing. If the biosenor technology firms start making their sensors smaller and less cumbersome, these might even start replacing smart cards or bank PINs.


One avenue of research that they haven't broached yet is how to authenticate when under stress, which I think will probably be a key area in high-security law enforcement or military use. Of course, they might just be concentrating on the areas where biometric security has not been a viable option.


In any case, computer security might be taking on a very different outlook in the next few years.