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Google has a creepy plan to help kill off the password

Project Abacus would analyse everything you do on your phone so it can tell that you’re the owner.

Image: AP Photo/Eric Risberg

PHONE SECURITY TENDS to fall into three specific areas. You have the traditional password, which practically every site and service relies on now, PIN codes and fingerprint scanners.

While the latter speeds up the unlocking process, there are still other projects underway with Google working on a particularly ambitious idea.

The idea is that while people struggle to remember passwords and PIN codes, Google’s Project Abacus will track at how you use your phone on a daily basis and use that data to unlock your phone.

The idea was originally announced at Google I/O, the company’s developer conference, last year but it’s getting ready for the next stage of testing.

How it works is it creates a ‘trust score’ of the person using it. Abacus analyses everything you do like the way you type, where you are, the way you speak and combines that with other data like the sensors in your phone.

It then uses all of this data to figure out that you are who you say you are. If it’s confident that you’re the owner, it will unlock automatically.

Google has already started using different types of technology on Android devices, those with version 5.0 Lollipop or higher, to unlock a phone. Called Smart Lock, it unlocks your phone if you’re in a trusted location, if it’s connected to a trusted Bluetooth device, when it recognises your face and when you are carrying it.

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img2.thejournal Recent versions of Android include different unlocking features including on-body detection.

The head of Google’s research unit ATAP (Advanced Technology and Projects) Daniel Kaufman gave a brief update at Google’s developer conference and said that a number of banks would be testing out the idea later this year.

“What we’re going to do with this is get rid of the awkwardness of second factor authentication,” he said. “This June, we’re going out to some very large financial institutions and assuming this goes well, this should be available to every Android developer around the world by the end of the year”.

Whether it makes its way to consumers depends on how useful developers find it. If it works out with their own apps, then it’s likely it would appear in next year’s version of Android, after N which will be released later this year.

Google has been experimenting with different types of unlocking methods for a while. Back in 2014, it purchased SlickLogin which uses soundwaves to verify a user’s identity. It also tested out password-free logins by tapping a notification on your phone.

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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