Nymi Bracelet: How Does the Device Turn Your Heartbeat Into Your Password?

By Josh Lieberman on September 3, 2013 5:55 PM EDT

nymi
The Nymi bracelet uses its wearer's cardiac rhythm to unlock devices. (Photo: Bionym)

Technology writers are constantly saying that passwords are no longer secure enough to guard our online identities. But alternae authentication techniques, like fingerprint and iris readers, haven't quite caught on in everyday use. Enter Nymi, a bracelet from Toronto-based Bionym that uses its wearer's heartbeat as an authentication method.

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Nymi works by monitoring the cardiac rhythm of its wearer. A person's cardiac rhythm, which varies depending on the size and location of the heart, is as unique as their fingerprint. Nymi is always monitoring the wearer's cardiac rhythm via an electrocardiogram, and when the wearer walks by a Nymi-paired device, the device automatically unlocks.

A person's cardiac rhythm is a better authentication method than a fingerprint because it is extraordinarily difficult to clone. Fingerprints can be lifted off of anything you touch. According to Biomy, other biometric methods don't fare much better.

"Your face, your iris -- they're all physical features that can be stolen, that you leave everywhere," Karl Martin, Bionmy founder and CEO, told The Verge.

The Economist details the absurd lengths someone would have to go to in order to clone someone's cardiac rhythm. The first step in biometric cloning is "skimming." In cardiac rhythm, this would mean making a person touch something that could record their heartbeat. The second part of biometric cloning, "spoofing," involves fooling the biometric reader into thinking you're presenting it with the genuine article -- for instance, using a replica of a fingerprint made from jelly. With cardiac rhythm authentication, a person would have to actually replicate the identify theft victim's heartbeat. All of that may not be impossible, but it's vastly harder than creating a fingerprint mold.

Although in the video below, Nymi is shown unlocking cars and all manner of devices, it's not apparent yet which companies have signed on to make their devices Nymi-compatible. The device is available for a preorder price of $79 and will ship in early 2014, by which time Nymi's partnerships will apparently be in place.

"We're going to be working very closely with developers this fall," Martin told TechCrunch. "We already have lots of developers signed up for that. So we're going to be ourselves offering basic capabilities ourselves for unlocking personal devices and computers."

Until such a time, the best thing you can do password-wise is determine how secure your passwords are, and turn on 2-step authentication for Twitter, Facebook, Gmail and any other site that offers it.

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