Video games could replace passwords, researchers say

Will Lara Croft be your next password?

Engineering specialists from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) intend to use “cognitive fingerprints” to confirm the authenticity of the user. Like fingerprints, everyone has a unique and individual way of tackling problem solving, they believe. Games could be the new log-in, in other words.

Instead of a password, the teams' new tool would deploy covert games. By taking anyone who would like to gain access through a set of unique problem-solving challenges, the team believes the system will be able to identify imposters.

While the user may not be aware they are participating in an identity confirmation test, the tool will be in a familiar format. Someone illegitimately trying to gain access will reveal a different response to the covert game, and trip a warning.

SwRI refers to this new approach to data protection as “covert-conditioned biometrics.” The Institute says this method relies on game theory, adaptive learning and behavior modification to both build a user’s unique “cognitive footprint” and to then verify the user’s identity to provide access going forward.

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There are two parts to the adaptive learning approach: a model for representing a user’s game strategies and the deployment of varied games based on user data and behavior research.

The non-profit institute has a great deal of experience in behavioral modeling, educational software development and the science of learning.

Sentier Strategic Resources is collaborating with the team as well, providing its experience in cognitive psychology and testing with human subjects.

Four stages must be passed before the project becomes reality, beginning by collecting data on computer use and building a profile of a typical user. They will then work out the covert games that will work best, develop a prototype and finally test the viability of cognitive fingerprints as passwords.

DARPA has provided some of the sponsorship for this new software-based authentication tool nine-month project.

Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.