Barclays new voice recognition is another nail in the password’s coffin

The news that Barclays will be authenticating its customers with voice recognition technology has been received quietly in many quarters. For many it is nothing more than a neat trick, a mere technological gimmick that makes life a bit easier. But it’s far more important than that.

As CBR has said before, passwords are rubbish. Many of the biggest breaches this year have been caused and worsened by the sloppy security habits they encourage people to adopt. We now have so many accounts online it is impossible to expect us to not reuse passwords, and that means a breach on one site can easily become a breach on many.

This phenomenon is dubbed "password fatigue" by Chris England of Okta, a cloud firm. He believes we have reached a point where single factor authentication, or usernames and passwords, is no longer acceptable. "Not surprisingly, multi-factor authentication- which requires two or more factors to verify legitimacy of the user – has taken off and evolved pretty substantially in the past decade," he said.

Banks are already common users of two factor authentication, the most famous example of which is the combination of a PIN and a bank card, respectively something the user knows and something the user has. The third factor is biometrics, or something the user is. This can be any unique identifying feature of the user: fingerprints, irises or in Barclays’ case voices.

It’s not impossible to fake any of those, but it’s a lot harder than stealing a password and a username. As Jason Hart of cloud firm SafeNet said: "Your voice, your image and your fingerprint are not a secret. You leave them everywhere and they can be spoofed, with different levels of effort. So it’s important that they are used as part of a multi factor authentication strategy."

As technology cheapens these new tools will become more widespread, and customers will become much safer – at least until the hackers work out how to beat biometrics. But fighting crime has always been something of an arms race, and it looks like the security experts may have just outfoxed their opponents.

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