Windows Hello Promises Its Facial Recognition Will Make Your Webcam Your Key to Online Security

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The most common password in the world is 123456.

If I’ve just left you wondering how on Earth I guessed your social media and email logins, you need to go change those right now.

It seems we just don’t care enough about our own online security. Or perhaps, the internet at large makes so many demands on us to create passwords that we become complacent and just choose something so simple we’ll never forget it.

But these passwords–the next “worst” on the naughty list are Password and 12345678 (because eight characters is actually stronger than six)–aren’t intended for our ease of use, they’re supposed to keep us and our data safe.

To save us from ourselves developers are venturing further and further into biometric security, making the creation of a durable password easier by (ironically) making the technology more complex. The result is facial recognition passwords that are as unique as each individual–that’s because it makes use of your face.

How Does Biometric Security Work?

Facial recognition technology isn’t a 2017 invention. Smartphone users have been using the technology since at least the beginning of the current decade, most notably as the login for their phones.

While there’s wider support for thumbprint identification and authorization, the facial version is still available on most Smart Lock-enabled systems.

And the technology has been refined from the days when you could trick the Google Galaxy Nexus’ Face Unlock function with a still photo, to a point where startups Blippar and FindFace can now identify tens of thousands of people online and in the street.

The smartphone technology operates in the same way as the emerging facial recognition systems being introduced at airports and international border crossings. Essentially, specialized cameras are able to detect and record very specific details about a human face, and create a one-of-a-kind map built on the width of a nose, the distance between features, and the depth of an eye socket.

That resulting map then becomes your new digital fingerprint or password, giving you a personalized form of ID far, far stronger than 123456.

Facial Recognition on Your PC

While smartphones have been using such biometric identifiers for simple tasks–unlocking your phone–the tech hasn’t been regularly put to use in PCs or laptops, and has little presence once you actually go online.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 feature Hello is seeking to change that. The facial recognition feature is included in the new OS as standard–a bit ironic considering that the “free upgrade” to Windows 10 actually broke many webcams–and has won rave reviews from the tech crowd for its ease of use.

It captures a moving image of your face which it then stores and uses to let you login into your computer within seconds just by staring at the screen. To further enhance security it can be paired with a four-digit PIN.

What’s more, it can be used on Microsoft’s new Edge browser to act as a password for actual live internet sites, although the uptake on the commercial side of things has been slow.

The real impediment to using Hello to beef up your online security is that the required high-tech cameras are built-in to only a few devices, and there are precious few peripherals that’ll do the job without costing a fortune.

However, the concept is sound, and the promise of instant, password-free secure online shopping, banking, social networking, and more is worth the wait for an affordable high-performance camera (and for more companies to build these types of cameras into their laptops).

A Password-Free Online Future

The first use case of the Hello facial recognition tech, signing into your own computer, has ultimately only cosmetic appeal. While it may shave a second or two off your login time, protecting your device is only really an issue if you presume it’s going to be physically stolen. That’s a real worry with a smartphone, but if you’re concerned about your PC, a locked front door is probably a better defense.

But heading out face first into the internet has some real potential. As Hello can require you to move your head to present a full picture of your face–not just a straight-on view–it is going to be harder than ever for someone to hack your accounts, even if they can link your name to a still image.

And now you only need to use the one source of authentication to access all your various online presences. You can virtually wander from a department store, to the bank, to a video call with friends, and onto a virtual car dealership in perfect security, remembering nothing more than how to stare straight ahead for a few seconds.

Easy as 123456.

Image Source: Flickr CC User Keith Williamson

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