Your Finger Swipe Could Become Your Password

To log into the new iPad app she made, computer science student Napa Sae-Bae held her hand open, touched her fingertips to the tablet's surface, then drew her fingers together until they met in the center. Her app analyzed the way she performed the gesture — the speed of her swipe, the angles between each fingertip — to decide whether to let her in. A moment later, a yellow smiley face popped up, indicating that she could access the app.

She then offered the iPad to me. On-screen, the app showed green tracks so I could drag my fingers along the same lines Sae-Bae did. Our hands are similar in size, so her hand-spread matched mine. Yet while I moved along the tracks, I noticed their paths felt uncomfortable and unnatural to me. Once I finished the gesture, I got a green frowning face to show I was locked out.

In two recent studies, Sae-Bae, who is studying for her doctorate at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, has found that apps such as these could be secure, more memorable and more fun alternatives to passcodes and passwords. Sae-Bae's work is in its early stages, but she and her adviser, Nasir Memon, hope that in the future, gestures and swipes will prove to be a better alternative to passwords, crafted especially for the touch screen age.