New Security Tool: Your Ear

Researchers at the University of Southampton are about to give new meaning to the expression "Can you hear me?" The team led by Dr.
Written by Dave Greenfield, Contributor

Researchers at the University of Southampton are about to give new meaning to the expression "Can you hear me?" The team led by Dr. Steven Beeby have been awarded funding by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council to investigate the use of Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) to identify individuals.

That's a fancy way of saying that your ear squeaks and not just squeaks but squeaks in a really unique way. In fact, your ear squeaking is so unique that Dr. Beeby and crew think they might be able to identify you by it.

Now before you start wishing you had listened to your mother and cleaned those ears, rest assured it wouldn't have mattered. Apparently, your girlfriend's ears squeak too, as does your dog's. (Not to equate the two, of course.)

According to the application:

The source of OAE lies with the human body's process for amplifying low level sounds. The emissions produced by this process can be detected at the entrance to the ear and are typically evoked by stimulating the hearing process by a suitable input sound. Not only have OAE been shown to be unique to individuals, their characteristics depend upon the input sound in a manner that also varies between individuals. This fact offers some unique opportunities when applying this as a biometric system.

Where could you use this Beeby's squeek-detection technology? Well, for one handset or headphones. Just imagine calling your bank and they would have a lock solid ID of you without having to remember the name of your favorite elementary school teacher. (Were there any, really?)

Beeby and team are looking at developing a user-friendly on-the-ear probe. They're going to optimize biometric analysis and study various issues, such as the potential for long term drift of the emissions, the influence of hearing impairments and external noise. Lastly, the challenge response dialogue will be applied and its effect on the biometric performance of the system evaluated.

My take? Well, up until now my wife has complained about my snoring. I've assured the missus that I'm merely protecting the hearth from wild animals who are deathly afraid of my thunderous roars. She doesn't buy it. But now when she reads this post, she'll be able to give me a hard time about my Otoacousitic Emissions. Geez. Could someone just pass me a Q-Tip already?

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