A new look for passwords
Sunday 22 October 1995
The system, developed by Visage, a Welsh private company, relies on humans' innate ability to recognise familiar faces within a fraction of a second. Yet as Hugh Davies, its chairman, points out: "You can't describe in words what is different about one face from another. But you can learn to recognise a previously unknown face in a few minutes, and that will stick for years."
The company has just been awarded British patents, and is applying for patents internationally. It is also talking to large software companies, including Novell and IBM, who are interested in incorporating the system into their products.
But Mr Davies is bitter that British venture capital companies have not backed the project, which has been kept going by a combination of awards from the Welsh Office and money from a wealthy individual, who has made repeated investments in return for 24 per cent of the equity.
"I think the British venture capital industry is one of those mythical creatures, like the Federation of Greek Islands' Master Plumbers," Mr Davies says.
Visage works by replacing the strings of letters and numbers used in modern, high-security passwords to defeat hackers with thumbnail pictures of faces. The average computer user has to hold six strings such as "orI4d3" in mind. But these are easily forgotten because the brain is not adapted to remembering them.
However, the brain is excellent at remembering human faces. To use the Visage system, the user first chooses a set of faces - typically three - from a given range of about 200 unknown individuals, and practises spotting them in a grid with six others. After five minutes' practice, almost anyone can "fix" their chosen faces.
In the working system, the faces are offered for less than a second in random positions in a grid on a computer screen, and the user must key in their positions. Only the intended user will spot the faces. Extra security can be generated by enlarging the grid and repeating this phase two or three times.
Security levels are kept high by not using famous faces or those of the user's family. GCHQ's tests of the system have all been positive, says Mr Davies. "We have been told by them that it is the single biggest advance in security since the invention of the password itself." The Home Office is understood to be interested in the system as an access control system.
At Charterhouse merchant bank, the system has been used for some time. "We never get any calls with people forgetting their passwords," says Neil Hare-Brown, the security manager. "Once they've learned this, you never hear from them again."
- 1 Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
- 2 The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
- 3 Danish TV reporter is all business up top, all party down below
- 4 Ross Burden dead: MasterChef and Ready Steady Cook star, dies aged 45
- 5 Businessman charged £75 for three small bottles of water in London hotel
The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Were 'Poor Doors' added to mixed developments so wealthy residents don't have to go in alongside social housing tenants?
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace
iJobs Money & Business
Data Governance Manager (Solvency II) – Contract – Up to £450 daily rate, 6 month (may go Permanent)
£350 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently looking...
£500 - £560 per day: Orgtel: Java Developer FX - Banking - London - Up to £560...
£350 - £400 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...
£26000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Account Manager - (Produc...