Former DARPA Head Proposes Pills and Tattoos to Replace Passwords

Motorola’s Regina Duggan suggested at the Wall Street Journal’s D11 conference that pills and tattoos could replace passwords as the solution to the perennial authentication problem.

Motorola’s Regina Dugan suggested at the Wall Street Journal’s D11 conference that pills and tattoos could replace passwords as the radical solutions to the perennial authentication problem.

Dugan was formerly the head of the Pentagon’s forward-looking Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and currently works as an executive at Google, where she leads the Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group within that company’s mobile subsidiary, Motorola.

As the head of the ATAP group, Dugan works on a number of interesting projects, but in a video published by All Things Digital, Dugan highlights her plan to replace passwords, which have persisted for decades, despite exponential growth in computing power and use and monumental technological advances over the same period of time.

The central question for Dugan seemed to be, ‘how can we do better at authentication?’

“The average user does it 39 times per day and it takes them 2.3 second every time they do it,” Dugan claimed of entering passwords.

She added that “power users” authenticate up to 100 times per day.

“You can start with nearer term things like tokens or fobs that might have [near field communications chips] or Bluetooth embedded in them,” she said, “but you can also think about a means of authentication that you can simply wear on your skin every day for weeks at a time – say an electronic tattoo.”

Dugan addressed the problems of wearable authenticators saying that there is “a mechanical mismatch between humans and electronics.”

“Electronics,” she explains, “are boxy and rigid; humans are curvy and soft.”

University of Illinois researcher Dr. John Rogers developed an electronic tattoo that was later produced by a company called MC 10. Motorola plans on working with them to advance a tattoo that could be used for authentication.

“It may be true that 10-to 20-year-olds don’t want to wear a watch on their wrists, but you can be sure that they’ll far more interested in wearing an electronic tattoo, if only to piss off their parents.”

The potential for accessorizing and stylizing this new authentication tattoo is limited only by our imaginations.

Dugan described her next method of authentication as “vitamin authentication” before pulling a pill out of her pocket and explaining that the pill had a small chip inside of it. The chip contains a switch. The pill also has, in Dugan’s words, “what amounts to an inside out potato battery.”

When swallowed, she explains, the acids in your stomach serve as the electrolyte and they power up the switch, which turns on and off. The switch creates an 18-bit ECG-like signal and essentially your entire body becomes the authentication mechanism. This would give users the ability to authenticate by touch.

The pill is FDA-approved and in use for a number of medical applications; welcome to the future.

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  • PC on

    Very interesting read. As a "power user" who authenticates 100 times on a slow day, I can see advantages. However it takes me a lot less than 2.3 seconds to enter my password. Having tested current technology such as fingerprint readers, I have rejected them because they consistently take longer than password entry. Unless the biometric processes just as fast, if not faster, than a password every time, users and especially "power users" won't use it. Now for things like my bank login or other less frequent but highly critical authentications, I don't mind an extra delay that comes with multi-factor authentication. Just not for my every day credential that I put in after I go to the bathroom.
  • Ed on

    You want to scan my eye or thumbprint, fine. But no tattoos or pills for me.
    • Bad Santa on

      You just have to be related to Ed the Horse. There simply is no other sane explanation for your imbecile statement of a sane human being being absolutely 'fine' with fingerprinting and retina scan.
  • Jan on

    [ex Darpa] required everyone--small and great, rich and poor, free and slave--to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead so that they could not [authenticate to] buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.
    • Dan on

      That's funny....exactly what I was thinking.
  • Joseph on

    I personally find this very creepy. The tattoo sounds find to me but at the same time its not for everyone. What about children that are using computers and the internet for the first time? Will they be required to need a tattoo to log into their account? A lot of parents don't want a child to have a tattoo at such a young age (plus I don't even think its legal at that age). As for the pill... well I don't agree with something like that going inside me and having the potential of doing something like that, its just down right creepy. This is coming from an 18 year old.
  • altgraubart on

    Just goes to show, You can be a complete idiot and become head of a government agency. What a jackass.
    • Bad Santa on

      @ altgraubart: being a complete idiot is a prerequisite for any management or government position, period.

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