Editorial: Geographical Memory

Feb 17 2014, 00:07 IST
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SummaryA new, geography-based method of remembering passwords could render even biometrics unnecessary

Visual cues are excellent aids to memory, that much is certain. But how to exploit that fact is less certain. Several schools and educational boards have introduced the use of slides and graphs in their teaching methods to make life easier for students. But the insight that the brain remembers much more of what it sees than it does through any other input can surely be put to some other use as well? A scientist in the UAE thinks so, and has applied the concept to computer passwords. Ziyad Al-Salloum, a computer scientist, has developed a system he calls geographical passwords. The idea is that we can use the memory of the favourite locations we have been to as our passwords.

The way it works is pretty simple: the user selects a location that is particularly memorable to them and draws a boundary around that location. Next, the image is 'salted' with a string of random characters and numbers that are unique to the user. Even in the case of various users choosing the same location, the characters assigned are different. Thus, the end result is a nearly impenetrable password that only the user knows. This is yet another attempt at mitigating the problems associated with memorizing several lengthy passwords for various websites. Biometrics are one way to go, but the incredible ease with which the brain remembers visual cues is a direction that is only now being explored.

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