Body odor passes smell test as biometric

Body odor passes smell test as biometric

Summary: Researchers say they have found another unique identifier

TOPICS: Security, Education

Researchers at the Polytechnic University of Madrid are exploring a new form of biometric authentication - body odor.

Turns out your smell - which may be just as offensive as the next guy's - is at least unique.

To prove that point, one only need to think of bloodhounds that can track people by following their scent. The researchers, however, admit that the technology they are experimenting with is not on par with traditional four-legged sensors.

The Polytechnic University research group known as Group of Biometrics, Biosignals and Security (GB2S) is working with the Spanish engineering consulting firm Ilía Systems Ltd. on this biometric study of "personal odor."

It turns out there are recognizable patterns of each person's body odor that remain steady, the researchers found. In addition, the accuracy rate of identifying a person by their unique odor turned out to be higher than 85%. Those numbers remain constant, the researchers say, even as body odor varies due to disease, diet change or even mood swings.

As part of the project, Ilía Systems has developed a sensor that can detect volatile elements present in body odor.

Still, the accuracy percentage puts odor on par with current biometric identifiers, which are often criticized in the security field and by end-users for unacceptable accuracy rates. While multimodal biometric measurements are improving the accuracy rates of the technology, some say the overall security and usage of biometrics is disappointing.

But researchers say capturing body odor can be as easy as someone walking past a sensor and would be less intrusive than fingerprint readers or iris scanners. The researchers envision the sensors being used at security checkpoints at airports or border crossings.

Of course, the ease of data collection would certainly raise eyebrows with privacy advocates.

The GB2S group is no stranger to biometric innovation. It won an award at the recent ActuaUPM competition for its biometric application for mobile devices, called BiomMo.

The application focused on identifying a person who performs a series of gestures while holding their accelerometer-equipped mobile device, and by having the user take a picture of one or both of their hands for analysis of finger and hand shape.  

Topics: Security, Education


John Fontana is a journalist focusing on authentication, identity, privacy and security issues. Currently, he is the Identity Evangelist for strong authentication vendor Yubico, where he also blogs about industry issues and standards work, including the FIDO Alliance.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • guess what

    cats, dogs, and all other mammals have been using 'body odor' to identify everything for the past forty million years or so. dah.
    • talking about cats and dogs...

      it means the little trapdoor for you cat or dog could open only if your animal is near.
    • True

      Cats are more visual than dogs (this shows up in the different play styles of kittens and puppies), but the concept seems like a no brainer. Dogs have been known to distinguish people by smell throughout human history; it was only a matter of time before humans figured out how to do it.
      John L. Ries
    • Yeah lets get down on our hands and knees..

      And sniff each other's arses....

      "Hey the food is great at Janets place."
      Jahm Mittt
  • Also reminds me of what happend to a friend of mine.

    We were getting ready to go out in the yard - it was a bit chill, so she grabbed the first jacket on the coatrack (mine)...

    Things went well - she went and petted my dads dog. No issues... for about 5 seconds.

    He then tried to take her arm off.

    Smells, just like any biometric, can be faked. And not that hard either.
    • Redundancy are good

      Smell isn't all that dogs rely on.
      John L. Ries
    • I'm also guessing...

      ...that the dog noticed more than one smell on your friend...and one of them was strange.
      John L. Ries
      • not until later.

        Fortunately she was familar with dogs and used to handling them.

        The dog didn't notice the difference until I was walking up.
  • I Can See It All Now

    all the cool dudes loggin in by scratchin their balls with their iPhones
  • Color me skeptical!

    Dogs have something no gadget does: Intelligence. I don't trust a gadget to reliably verify my identity by smell. The article even admits the problem by touting an 85% success rate. That means that 15% of the time it is wrong. So roughly 7 times out of 100, it will deny you access to your account, or allow access to someone who is not you. In the area of security, an 85% success rate is a fail.

    Not to mention how easy it will be for malicious people to "scan" someone's body odor, digitize it, and then use it to gain access to their accounts.
    • Reminds me of a joke

      Q. Why don't people need drivers licenses to ride horses?
      A. Because horses are smarter than cars.
      John L. Ries
  • Using body odor for identification.

    Seems a bit unlikely, but I think it's funny.
  • If this requires a specific processor ...

    ... I hope they name it an ARM-PIT