Say hello to security

People are ever more reliant on mobile devices not just to work but to manage their social life as well. But the familiarity and sense of ease that people now have with their mobile devices can lull them into a false sense of security.

Around 900 laptops are lost, stolen or mislaid each week at London Heathrow, according to a survey by Ponemon Institute, a security research firm.

As I write this article in my local library, I can see an unattended Apple MacBook whose owner left the room five minutes ago to take a phone call and has yet to return.

The Ponemon study found that 53% of business travellers had sensitive information on their laptop and, of those, 65% admitted they did not take steps to protect the data.

The main problem of course, is that people rarely worry about the consequences of a stolen device until it happens.

And if the device has not been stolen and is still there when they get back — or miraculously reappears – they are even less likely to consider that the device could have been hacked during its absence.

However, a determined data thief can copy confidential information off a laptop to a USB key in a few minutes.

Alternatively, spies can install keylogging software to steal logins and passwords, or infect the laptop with malware that will install on the corporate network the next time the mobile worker logs on.

And it is no longer just laptop owners who need to worry. The past couple of years have seen a strong growth in malware that deliberately targets iPhones and Android smartphones.

The IT industry offers many solutions to minimise the risk if mobile devices are lost or stolen.

But the “bring your own device” trend means that often corporate IT staff do no know what devices their end-users have and, more importantly, what sensitive data they have on them.

Voice biometrics could provide the much-needed solution to the growing problem of protecting mobile devices. As natural language technologies become embedded in consumer devices, it makes sense to leverage the built-in speech recognition capabilities to make devices inherently more secure.

Voiceprint technology is not particularly new, but its large-scale deployment on consumer devices is a recent development.

Current mobile device protection methods, based on PINs or passwords, are not just primitive but also cumbersome for users.

According to a recent consumer survey 96% of respondents stated they often make mistakes typing their passwords on their mobile phones.

To address this challenge, I expect many device manufacturers will embed some form of voiceprint ID in future devices.

Instead of struggling to recall a PIN, you simply have to say “Hello Kitty” to turn on a device and instantly launch a personalized home screen with favourite apps and content – even on shared devices like tablets or PCs.

Once the smartphone or other consumer device has identified and authorized the speaker as a legitimate user, it can customize the experience accordingly.

I can see this personalization capability being really useful for our family PC, for example, as family members often forget to log on as themselves and then wonder why they cannot find their personal documents.

The combination of voice biometrics with natural language interaction could improve the usability of consumer devices still further. As well as identifying the user, the start-up phrase could also be used to customise the session – “Hi Kitty. Can you open the letter I was working on yesterday?” To which Kitty might respond “You’ve already sent it — do you still want me to open it?”

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