A New Biometric Method to Identify People by Using Their Brain Waves

‘Brainprints’ could replace fingerprints as a security measure

25 November 2016

Someday employees and visitors to military installations and other secure facilities might have their brain waves scanned instead of presenting a fingerprint to gain access. A new biometric method, called brainprints, has been found to be more accurate than fingerprint screening, and it can’t be stolen or altered. IEEE Senior Member Zhanpeng Jin and other researchers at Binghamton University, in New York, were able to accurately identify participants 100 percent of the time based solely on their brain waves.

Using their Cognitive Event-Related Biometric Recognition (CEREBRE) protocol, the researchers recorded the brain activities of 50 volunteers using electroencephalogram headsets. While their brains were being scanned, the participants viewed 500 images selected to evoke unique responses from each person. The images included food, the faces of celebrities, and uncommon words such as conundrum. Also included were sine gratings, which vary in their topographical pattern of folds from person to person and strongly stimulate the primary visual cortex for that reason. Sine gratings elicit “robust visual potentials over the back of the head,” the researchers say.

“The images were chosen with the major design principle being that we wanted them to elicit very different responses from person to person,” lead author Sarah Laszlo said in an interview with The Huffington Post. Laszlo is an assistant professor of psychology at Binghamton. “Some images we selected were on the basis of a pre-study we did where we asked participants to tell us about foods and celebrities they loved and hated. From that study we selected foods and celebrities that were polarizing.”

The food images were chosen by the researchers based on their intuition that what people like to eat is highly individual, and it’s unlikely that any two people will have the exact same preferences. And, the researchers surmised, it’s even more unlikely that two people will have identical responses to images across all the categories used in the experiment.

Based on the participants’ brain activity in response to the images, the researchers developed a computer program that created a brainprint that identified each participant with 100 percent accuracy.

“We wanted to recognize a person based on their inside thinking—the inside brain activity that is not visible,” Jin says in this video. “That means even the user cannot be aware of that” activity. The responses are instinctual, he says.


Brainprints have distinct advantages over fingerprints in identifying people.

“These days, for the most secure information, a biometric credential like a fingerprint is simply not secure enough,” Laszlow says in this video. Criminals, for example, could threaten someone to force him or her to unlock a safe or gain access to a top-secret location with a fingerprint—but they couldn’t do the same with a brainprint. When people are under duress, their brain activity changes dramatically and, therefore, the brainprint changes, Laszlow says. And although criminals could use a dead person’s finger to break in, a dead person’s brain would be of no use.

Moreover, if it became possible for an authorized user’s brainprint to be stolen or disclosed, it could be canceled and a different combination of images could be recorded, the researchers say. The same can’t be done for fingerprints.

The researchers say the CEREBRE system could be used in such high-security facilities as the U.S. Pentagon.

Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to enter office buildings and walk through airport security without ID badges or passports—just our brains.

The article “CEREBRE: A Novel Method for Very High Accuracy Event-Related Potential Biometric Identification” was published in the July edition of the IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security and is now available in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library.

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