Voiceprints make crypto keys

Thursday, 17 October 2002, 12:34 PM EST

As we rely on computers for tasks like handling money and keeping secrets safe, it has become increasingly important to give our desktops, laptops and PDAs the means to know for sure who they are dealing with. The classic solution is to lock up the data, and give the user a cryptographic key.

The main challenge to improving this type of security is to make it more difficult to steal or reconstruct the keys, but at the same time make it easier for legitimate users to access computing resources.

Researchers from Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs are tapping the individuality of the human voice to generate unique cryptographic keys for computer users. Under the researchers' scheme, a user speaks a password, and the system listens for both the correct word and the correct voice.

The method uses the random variability of people's voices to add a layer of security to even a simple password, said Fabian Monrose, a member of technical staff at Bell Labs. "The randomness of [a] key is drawn from both the pass-phrase that is spoken and the speech patterns of the user... speaking it," he said. The more randomness contained in the information the key is constructed from, the harder the key is to figure out.

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