Even as the concept of passwords was gaining popularity in the late 1960s — a few years after the text-based authentication method was used by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Hollywood was decades ahead. The industry was already fascinated with advanced technologies such as retina scans and voice- and face-recognition systems that could authenticate users.
In the 1968 epic science-fiction film, titled, 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the characters gets access to a space station via voice authentication. There are plenty of such examples of the extraordinary prescience displayed by yesteryear Hollywood scriptwriters. In 1982, another movie of the same genre, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, showed the character of Captain Kirk doing a retinal scan to access the highly classified Genesis Project. Then in 2002, Steven Spielberg pushed it further with the Minority Report. In the movie, set in 2054, John Anderton (Tom Cruise) even undergoes an eye transplant to avoid getting detected by iris scanners.
Now, an ordinary individual will not have to take such extreme measures like the disgraced cop played by Cruise in the action-detective thriller. But the real world is fast catching-up with the reel world and today biometrics is an indispensable part of our daily digital lives. According to Vishal Salvi, chief information security officer & head of cyber security practice, Infosys,the global passwordless authentication market is expected to balloon from USD36 billion at present to USD300 billion by 2025.
Biometric authentication systems are very complex and have “crazy amounts of entropy (randomness)” says Vijay Balasubramaniyan, co-founder and CEO of Pindrop, an Atlanta-based voice biometrics startup backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Google Capital, and others.
But in the case of passwords, hackers can deploy attacks which can do millions or even billions of random combinations to crack them. In comparison, Balasubramaniyan points out, “Biometrics have so much more variability that it becomes difficult to figure out.” An alphanumeric password might be just eight to 15 characters long while typical biometrics such as voice could have at least 140 features.
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