It looks like the days of the password are numbered. Microsoft has announced Windows Hello, a new biometric authentication system launching with Windows 10 in the (Northern hemisphere) fall. It means you'll be able to unlock your computer with a fingerprint or a face, just as you can on today's flagship smartphones.
With the software support Microsoft is placing in the next version of Windows, manufacturers can start adding the necessary scanners and lenses on the hardware side – and as Windows 10 is aiming to bring the same OS experience to smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops and consoles, it's a significant step forward for biometric security.
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"We want your devices to recognize you, to understand what you're saying ... we want the experience to go wherever you do and we want you to feel a great sense of trust as you go," writes Microsoft's Joe Belfiore in a blog post announcing the news.
The Redmond company is promising the system will be tightly secured too. Special infrared technology is going to be required in compatible cameras, for example, to distinguish between the real you and a photo of you. There are plans to roll Hello out everywhere Windows goes – government, defense, health – so security is going to be a primary concern.
Goodbye to the password?
It's another nail in the coffin for the long-serving password. While these strings of letters and numbers have had an important role to play, they're no longer able to cope with the rigors of today's technology. They're easy to crack for hackers and difficult to remember for users, with dozens of apps and services competing for attention and login credentials.
That's why most apps, sites, services and devices are now trying to move on to something else, whether that's the Touch ID fingerprint detection built into the newest iPhones or the Nymi Band that can use your heartbeat as a way of confirming your identity. Aside from Apple's efforts, projects like these have struggled to gain mainstream traction, but that should change with Microsoft's support.
Beneath Windows Hello is another new product, Microsoft Passport. Once you've confirmed your identity to your device – with Hello – this verification can be passed to apps and websites using Passport. If the app or site supports Passport, then there's no need to enter in another password or another set of login credentials.
What's more, your iris or your face won't be stored on your laptop (or other device), just an encrypted token that proves you are who you say you are. All of this new technology requires support from hardware makers and app developers, which may be why Microsoft is getting it announced well before Windows 10 finally goes on sale in a few months' time.
Microsoft's demo video showing the capabilities of Hello and Passport is linked below.