Google facial password patent aims to boost Android security

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According to a recent patent filed by Google, users could soon be asked to pull a series of faces in place of the traditional passwords to unlock their Android phones or tablets.

The recently-published patent now suggests Google is looking to banish all security fears by asking users to record a video of the “facial landark” during set up and then perform the said action correctly to unlock.

It says requiring specific gestures could prevent the existing Face Unlock facility being fooled by photos.

A spokesman for Google was unable to comment on when the suggested technology might be implemented.

The document – which was filed in June 2012 but has only just been published – suggests the software could track a “facial landmark” to confirm a user not only looks like the device’s owner but also carries out the right action.

It says the check would work by comparing two images taken from a captured video stream of the user’s face to see if the difference between them showed the gesture had been made.

Google is also prepared for the eventuality that this method could to be worked-around by fraudsters and has explained how light beams from the phone could be used to identify familiar glints in the user’s eyes.

The patent filing explains how the phone could “emit light beams having different colours or frequencies, that are expected to induce in the eyes of a user a reflection of light having a corresponding frequency content.”

Last year Google introduced a “liveness check”, requiring users to blink at their device to prevent its facial recognition program being fooled by a photograph.

However, a group of security researchers from the University of British Columbia posted a video online showing the feature could still be tricked.

They showed that an image of one of their members could be copied from Facebook, then – using graphics editing software – treated so that his eyes were painted over with colours matching his skin tone, and fake eyelashes were drawn on top to make it appear that he had his eyes shut.

By holding a screen up to the targeted Android device and flicking back-and-forth between the original and doctored images, they showed Android was fooled into believing it was being shown the subject blinking.

“It sounds like Google is thinking about how try and counter this with randomness and movement.

A spokesman for Google said it did not discuss individual patents, but noted that it filed a variety of ideas that its employees came up with.

“Some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don’t,” he added.

“Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patent applications.”

Despite all this, one cybersecurity expert said it might still be years before it became advisable to use facial recognition passwords.

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