Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group has been on a tear at I/O these past two days, demoing lots of new and interesting innovations that may one day hit production and make all of our lives much, much better. One of such projects is Project Abacus, which is seeking to all but eliminate the use of passwords for authentication.
Put simply, our smartphones can collect a lot of information about how we go about our day – how fast we walk, how well we type using our phone’s keyboard, how we talk – and the ATAP group thinks that using this data for authentication is 10x safer than fingerprints, and 100x safer than 4 digit PIN codes. They think that because, well, they’ve gathered lots of data on it – the company has been running trials of Project Abacus since last year in partnership with 33 universities and in total has collected 40 terabytes of data across 28 different states. They did not, however, say how much more secure they are than old-fashioned email and password combinations.
While Abacus runs in the background on your phone and collects data about you, it is constantly calculating a trust score that is basically a score of how confident it is that you are who you say you are, the owner of the phone. When you launch an app, take Netflix, if Abacus can successfully verify your identity, you’ll be logged in automatically. If it is unable to get a high trust score for you, Abacus will revert back to asking for a password. ATAP also says that different apps could theoretically require different trust scores – a banking app would most certainly want a higher trust score than that of a game.
Project Abacus doesn’t totally eliminate passwords but it’s one step closer, and makes total elimination of them a logical conclusion. And anything that will further mitigate the risk of intruders accessing my digital life is fine by me. When the world is putting this much energy into obfuscating away old-fashioned passwords (don’t forget Smart Lock Passwords) you know their time is up. A world that runs on these highly secure trust scores is on the horizon, I can feel it.