A mind-reading security check

Replacing passwords with a program that reads your mind.

By Saheli Datta, Business 2.0 Magazine writer-reporter

(Business 2.0) -- Hate having to remember passwords? You're not alone. One in nine of us keeps our passwords written down in electronic form--making the whole system so insecure that federal regulators are requiring online banks to add more layers of authentication.

That's why a year-old security startup named Cogneto is rolling out its service this summer, its first client an unnamed major financial institution. Cogneto's aim: "to get rid of the password," says CEO Ralph Scobie. Instead, Scobie's software trades on "passthoughts," determining the unique way your mind and memory work by asking a series of questions about, say, a recent vacation.

Cogneto's algorithms, built by psychologists as well as math geeks, don't look just at what you answered but also at the way you thought about your answers. How long did you take? How much did your cursor hover, and where?

"It's a very powerful, very comprehensive tool, better than biometrics," says David O'Conell, a senior analyst at Nucleus Research. Cogneto says 98 percent of users are correctly identified after five questions.

At first, Cogneto will act as a secondary security layer; its financial customers aren't ready to replace passwords outright. But Scobie says password replacement is much more likely in the e-commerce arena, for which the next version of Cogneto is being developed.


Scobie's software can tell who you are by the way you answer its questions.

Was that party at a bar?

Tell me about a party you went to. Did you play games?

Pick a time you went traveling. Did you go by train? Plane? Automobile?

Did you go with your spouse?

Did you go to the beach? Top of page

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