What’s happening in the industry of wearable tech, and how can users secure their future while wearing it?
However intimate our relationship with smartphones has become, they’re not ergonomically adapted to humans. They’re still a device that’s held in our hands, that’s disturbing our senses, and that’s stealing attention from reality instead of augmenting it. For this reason, the tech industry is on its mission of replacing “holding” with “wearing”.
Chart borrowed from Business Insider UK
The global wearable technology market is estimated to be worth over $16 billion in 2015, and $80 billion in 2020, with Apple Watch and Google glasses as two of the devices finally disrupting a market that has seen a slow start in revenue, consumer adoption and technological developments. Wearable innovations often rely on biometric technology, and besides watches and glasses, we’re already seeing SMS earbuds, Bluetooth gloves, connected shoes, and more.
Slightly killing the buzz, wearable tech reinforces the concerns around big data, and how personal information can be exploited by the ones owning – or hacking into – the systems storing it.
Privacy economist Alessandro Acquisti conducted an interesting study back in 2010, pairing up new facial recognition technology with the stuff users share online. In just one month, around 2.5 billion photos were uploaded on Facebook, and from them, 30% were identifiable with off-the-shelf software. And again, this is five years back.
“Any personal information can become sensitive information”.
The technology of facial recognition and other biometric solutions is evolving, and the ability to identify people is increasing as we put more content out there. As Acquisti argues, that has its implications.
“Marketers tell us that big data and social media are not just a paradise of profit for them, but a Garden of Eden for the rest of us. We get free content. We get to play Angry Birds. We get targeted apps. But in fact, in a few years, organizations will know so much about us, they will be able to infer our desires before we even form them, and perhaps buy products on our behalf before we even know we need them.”
A creepy thought, but it doesn’t even have to be about actively taking advantage of user data, but just about being lazy around privacy principles. One example is the case of FitBit, an activity tracking device, where the devs weren’t attentive enough concerning the gadget’s default settings. By focusing (a little bit too much) on shares and social engagement, users sexual activity was made visible for all – just a quick Google search away.
Another worry, perhaps bigger than corporations exploiting or mislaying our personal information, is when hackers are. As we’re now facing computer- and mobile hacks, it’s pretty likely the same will happen to wearables, but with a significant difference: the greater proportion of damage than can be made. And this brings system security to a whole other level.
Fortunately, innovative players are seeing the market potential, and based on some of the examples I’ve found – prepare for everything.
Knock is an app relying on the precious insight of how ubiquitous and constantly present our smartphones are. Since we always carry them with us, why not use them to sign in on other devices? Using Bluetooth Low Energy, a double tap on the iPhone makes users access their Macs without typing any password. Even a pocket-knock is doable.
Approaching the wearable future, the app company is now introducing Knock 2.0, enabling the same security feature, but replacing iPhones with the Apple Watch. After signing in with Touch ID (a fingerprint) as normal, the user will be able to log onto the computer from the watch – this time only requiring one tap. Knock and Apple Watch is a (self-declared) “match made in heaven”.
With their mission of getting rid of usernames and passwords, oneID is an app that syncs personal information across all iOS devices, and enables the user to choose his or her own level of security with integrated two factor verification, using a website login capture system. In other words, the app stores your login credentials from websites (only on Chrome and Firefox atm). oneID is free of charge and available on iPhone, desktop and Apple Watch.
With smart cards, the user is the key. The idea is simply to use fingerprints as verification, to activate, access, and pay with credit cards. But then again, why change our accustomed hardware when we can just tweak the software instead?
Apple’s Touch ID technology means “Security. Right at your fingertip”. Enabled in iPhone 6, fingerprints as a smooth authentication factor is used by simply placing a finger on the home button.
“The laser-cut sapphire crystal surface of the button then directs the image of your finger to the sensor – ”
Ok. Admittedly, Apple succeeded in sweet talking me, but with a 360-readability feature and multiple fingers enrolled, this solution seems pretty kick-ass.
In mid 2012, Google filed a patent application on facial recognition as a way of accessing devices without passwords or PINs. The twist is asking for a unique facial expression, such as a wrinkled nose or a raised eyebrow. Even though the idea has obvious flaws – for instance, how easily others can fool the system only by duplicating and photoshopping images – it can be considered as a teaser for what’s to come.
Just like children’s fake tattoos, electronic ones are temporary, rub-ons that applies to the skin as a thin rubber patch. However, electronic tattoos contain circuits, which can include antennas and built-in sensors, enabling connections with mobile phones and tablets. Functioning as user verifier, these types of tattoos are yet another possible substitute for passwords. Here’s what Mike Elgans at Computerworld thinks about it:
“They make perfect sense; they’re inevitable; and they’re going to be on the market very soon. In fact, it’s almost certain that you’ll at least try one within the next five years.”
With the solution of a password pill, whole bodies are authentication tokens. The idea is to hide a small switch equipped chip within the pill, making it into a battery that gets powered from electrolytes in form of the acids in the user’s stomach.
“Boredom is the enemy of innovation”, Regina Dugan, leader of the project says.
Encapsulating a 18-bit ECG-like signal means that the “vitamin pill” can be picked up by devices and therefore be a possible authentication method in the future.
Whether looking at the rise of RFID Microchip Implants from a utopian or dystopian point of view, they sure provoke emotions. Literally letting technology in under peoples skin, makes us graze a future where we can pay by swiping our arms, track exact locations of our children, and prevent seizures or accidents before they’ve given any sign of occurring. And of course, super powering human identities by making them the only access factor to connected devices.
The future of verification is wearable. As online and offline merge into one, biometrics, multiple factors, co-dependency, and further invisibility, are key areas of what future security systems will look like. Wearables are getting cheaper and smaller, and battery life is increasing. But we’re not quite there yet.
Chart borrowed from Business Insider UK
Mixing it with IoT is when things get really interesting, making connectivity not just possible, but also meaningful: “There’s a marriage still to be had between form and function, but also a need for user experience that really resonates with people”, says Steve Holmes, vice president of the New Devices Group and general manager of the Smart Device Innovation team at Intel. Well, yes – that, and a promise of security.
For additional reading and discoveries on wearables, check out this page.
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