7 Surprising Biometric Identification Methods

Everything from your smell to your ears can be used to prove you're you

Biometrics has long been put forth as the next big thing in authentication, replacing or supplementing the concept of “things that you know”—passwords, PINs, and so on—with “things that you are.” But despite lots of advances in the realm of biometric authentication, it’s clear that there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Hackers have found ways to trick and circumvent biometric authentication that relies on factors like fingerprints and facial recognition, and it’s not hard to imagine that they’ll also find ways around more advanced authentication methods, too. Some experts even worry that biometrics are inherently fallible because they rely on some factors that could change throughout a person’s life.

In the end, what may prove most effective is a mix of methods, all of which add up to prove that you are, in fact, you. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of qualities that are unique to each person on the planet, and which could be potentially combined to create a comprehensive picture of you that’d also be really hard to fake. While you may be familiar with security that employs fingerprints, voice, and retinas, we’re guessing at least a few of these biometric authentication methods under development will surprise you.

Ear Ear

You heard it here: The shape of your ear is just as distinguishing as your fingerprints; no two ears, even on the same person, are alike. Startup Descartes Biometrics has come up with an app that can identify smartphone users by the way they press their phone to their ear and cheek—though its less-than-consistent recognition means that perhaps this particular app isn’t yet ready for prime time.

Follow Your Heart

They say the heart always knows the truth, so it shouldn’t be surprising that someone’s come up with a way to prove your identity based on it. The Nymi is an in-development wristband that takes an electrocardiogram (ECG)—measuring the electrical signal generated by your heart’s activity—and uses it to authenticate your identity. You can then use the Nymi as a secure token for unlocking access to other devices, such as smartphones and computers. To date, identifying people by ECG is less proven than fingerprints or iris/retina recognition, but given the burgeoning popularity of smart devices that measure your heart rate, it could end up being a convenient method of authentication.

Butt Biometrics

I suppose you could say there’s just one ‘but’ about this biometric authentication method—and it’s your posterior. Turns out your keister—or, more specifically, the way you sit—can be used to identify you. One team of researchers has created a prototype of a car seat that can tell who’s sitting in it. It’s not only great for making sure that only you (or, presumably, your family) can start your car, but also potentially handy for ensuring that your seat, mirrors, and other preferences are automatically adjusted for you.

The Eye (Movements) Have It

Authentication via parts of the eye, like the retina or iris, has been around for a while, but an Israeli company wants to use the unique movements of your eyes to identify you. It seems that we move our eyes in predictable patterns when doing certain tasks, such as following an icon across a screen. The advantages of the system are that it’s tough to fool, since it requires a real-time response to a stimulus, rather than a static factor like a fingerprint, and it’s fairly easy to implement. The downside, I imagine, is that it requires eye contact (which may not be easy when you’re driving, for instance) and is probably a little slower than using something like a fingerprint.

The Nose Knows

Not only is your olfactory organ good for smelling, but British researchers have established that it’s also a handy way to tell you apart from your neighbor. Like your ears, your nose is distinct—probably belonging to one of six common nose types—and is unlikely to be mistaken for anybody else’s. It’s also easy to recognize, though changing your nose is hardly as tough as changing, say, your eyes. Hollywood can vouch for that.

You’re So Vein

While your fingerprints may be the biometric standby these days, there are some issues with relying on them too heavily. For one, they’re fairly easy to copy. Second, if someone is truly invested in breaking into your accounts, that may provide enticement to (gulp) remove a finger. Vein matching, on the other hand, can also use a finger or a palm, but provides a few additional benefits—most notably that the veins must be from a living person in order to work, and that they’re very hard to fake.

The Sniff Test

When that grade school bully taunted “Smell ya later,” he probably didn’t realize that he was predicting another potential biometric method. That’s right, your distinct body odor—and we’re making no judgments here—can be used to identify you. Researchers at the Polytechnical University of Madrid have studied how scents differ among people and built an artificial nose, which they say can differentiate between two people by their smell, like a bloodhound. The U.S. Army is interested in similar technology, which it would like to use to help suss out potential threats. It’s still early days, though: the artificial nose can filter out smells like hand cream or changes in odor caused by diet and disease, but the Madrid team’s technology still has failure rate of around 10 percent.