PayPal exec wants to replace passwords with injectable chips

PayPal exec wants to replace passwords with injectable chips

People may only just be coming round to the idea of using their fingerprints to authenticate themselves, but a PayPal executive is already looking ahead to a time when we embed and ingest devices that identify us at the point-of-sale.

In a presentation he has given at several conferences, Jonathan LeBlanc, global head of developer advocacy at PayPal, calls on industry to 'Kill All Passwords,' which he says are a broken method of authentication.

This is a view widely shared, including by PayPal, which was one of the founding members of the Fido Alliance, which counts MasterCard, Visa and many banks among its members working on standards for a biometric-based alternative to the password and username.

The most popular form of biometric authentication is the fingerprint, championed by Apple, which uses its Touch ID technology to let customers pay for goods with their iPhones.

However, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, LeBlanc calls this type of external biometrics "antiquated," arguing that it leaves room for false positives and negatives.

In the future, he suggests, we could instead embed silicon chips with ECG sensors under our skin to monitor unique heart activity and communicate the information to "wearable computer tattoos". Another option could be an ingestible capsule that tests unique things such as glucose levels and is powered by stomach acid.

Although the ideas may seem far-fetched, LeBlanc says that PayPal is already experimenting with technology that authenticates people through their heartbeats - albeit using wearable bands rather than implants.

Royal Bank of Canada and the UK's Halifax are both working with a startup called Bionym to test the use of bracelets that authenticate user identities by analysing their unique heartbeat rhythm. Meanwhile, several banks have already moved beyond fingerprints to finger veins for authentication at ATMs.

However, PayPal stresses that it is not currently investigating some of LeBlanc's more exotic ideas, telling Finextra: "We have no plans to develop injectable or edible verification systems. It's clear that passwords as we know them will evolve and we aim to be at the forefront of those developments."

"I ground a lot of my talks in reality, but toward the end of the presentation things get a little strange," LeBlanc told the Journal.

Comments: (6)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 20 April, 2015, 10:52Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I agree with this. Like it or not, we are heading in this direction and it is the most obvious solution. It will herald the design and production of new techgnology to authenticate you on and off-line. Dog's have had this technology embeded for years. It's time we caught up. So long a we don't start chasing cars it should be good.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 20 April, 2015, 12:44Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

It is inevitable and I welcome this as a more secure and easier way to authenticate your identity, and to do away with passwords once and for all.

John Gunn
John Gunn - VASCO - Chicago 20 April, 2015, 21:38Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

"Another option could be an ingestible capsule that tests unique things such as glucose levels and is powered by stomach acid..." Imagine a dirty world where we have to protect our waste from hackers. 

Russell Bell
Russell Bell - Fastbase Ltd - Wellington 21 April, 2015, 04:42Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Nobody would bother gouging the ID chip out of a dog, all that mess for nothing, dogs don't have bank accounts.  For people passwords are still the worst form of authentication except for all the others that have been tried.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 21 April, 2015, 06:03Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Of course implanted ID Chips that are used in animals for a variety of veterinary purposes, but have the possibility for human use in the digital age, can only be conceptualised as a voluntary provision. I cannot possibly see how this can be implemented across the board by fiat in a democratic state today or in our life time. It must come down to personal choice. It is also something that will be attractive to some of today's youth and probably more so going forwards. Again it must be a personal choice.

Hypothetically, after several generations have got used to an ID chip and where the vast majority of people have freely undergone an ID implant to connect with banks, governments, educational institutions etc., there may be penalities imposed by future institutions such as banks and governments for non-compliance to an implanted ID. This might take the form of exclusion from some online websites that require a high level of security, more inconvenience and the potential of greater financial costs to be borne by those who do not want an implanted ID chip.   

Russell Bell
Russell Bell - Fastbase Ltd - Wellington 21 April, 2015, 07:08Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

This proposal mixes two ideas which are better considered separately: an embedded chip, and internal biometrics.  The only reasons to embed a chip in your body are convenience (you don't need to carry a card) and to inconvenience a thief (who now must carry a scalpel.)

Using your heartbeat or similar isn't an improvement on external biometrics.  For a start a heartbeat doesn't make a good secret.  With a little ingenuity a thief could make a recording.  Something as simple as a virus app on your smartwatch.  Or a bulk-hack of medical data stored by a hospital.  Much the same problem as fingerprints; the information isn't truly secret, and once compromised you can't change it short of a heart-transplant.

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