There's no more antiquated part of modern technology than alphanumeric passwords. They’re hard to remember and impossible to secure, and they leave us vulnerable to the whims of any two-bit hacker who wants to steal them. Here are a few ways we can move on from their tyranny, from most likely to most fanciful.
The best solution so far
Two-factor authentication is already here: All you need is your regular old password and your phone, which receives an ever-changing passcode sent via text, app, or phone call every time you log on. It's a mildly painful process, but last October, Google released a piece of hardware designed to speed it up — a USB security key that plugs into a computer and provides the second code. It won't work on mobile, and it can still be stolen. But better doesn’t have to mean perfect.
The cute solution
Some touch-screen phone passwords have already ditched letters and numbers in favor of connect-the-dots challenges. Rutgers University researchers took that one step further: Your future password could be a free-form squiggly line. It turns out your kindergarten teacher was right — your messy drawings really are unique.
The cool and actually possible solution
Apple has already made fingerprint scanning mainstream. But our bodies are awash in unique signatures — biometric identification can use heart rate, ear shape, or facial and vocal recognition to identify you. ZTE’s new Grand S3 phone, for example, reads your eye print, or the blood vessel pattern in the whites of your eyes.
But biometrics have one fundamental flaw: Once someone figures out how to steal the pattern of your iris, it’s going to be a lot harder to change your eyeball than your password.
The "sounds crazy"solution
This password replacement might literally make you gag: It’s a pill that turns you into a living, breathing, electronic authentication device. As explained by Regina Dugan, former head of DARPA and current lead of Motorola’s advanced technology and projects group, the pill hides a small chip inside of it, along with “what amounts to an inside-out potato battery.” Once swallowed, the chip is powered by stomach acid and emits an “ECG-like signal” that turns your entire body into a passcode.
As Dugan said in 2013, “This isn’t stuff that is going to ship anytime soon.” But the FDA has already given Motorola’s authentication “vitamin” its seal of approval, so once it’s ready, you could be quickly free of chores like unlocking your phone — since your gut would be a beacon alerting all devices around you that you are, in fact, you.