According to the current statistics, smartphones occupy approximately 80% of the US mobile subscriber market. Thus, because of their ubiquity and functionality, there is significant potential in the use of smartphones as authentication devices.

Let’s start with smartphone computing power. New smartphones have impressive computing power with 34-bit and 64-bit processors, 1.7GHz and 2.5GHz processing speed, 3 GB RAM, quad core and octa core processors. In addition, smartphones have many off the shelf apps that are quite amenable for authentication. Available apps include, for example, QR code scanners, bar code readers, flash lights, infrared thermal imaging software, etc. Of course, additional open source or proprietary apps can be written for authentication purposes. In fact, within the SPACT center, we have a team of researchers developing such authentication software. Of course, one of the attractive options with smartphones is their cyber connectivity, which allows for product track-and-trace throughout the supply chain and connection to external databases.

When considering smartphones for authentication devices I find it useful to think of them in terms of traditional authentication devices with both an activation ‘sources’ and a ‘detectors.’

Detectors within smartphones include built-in features like high-resolution cameras (e.g. Nokia Lumia 1020 – 41 megapixels), with auto and manual control systems, mimicking digital single-lens reflex cameras in many respects. Built-in LED and built-in xenon flashes can be used as the ‘source’ in the authentication process. The choice of flash is important because of intensity and wavelength considerations. LEDs give a relatively low intense flash, with a large blue peak at ~ 460 nm in the visible light spectrum. On the other hand, xenon lamps give high intensity flashes with a smooth, continuous curve with almost constant intensity between 380 to 750 nm. These considerations may come into play if one was interested in using the flash to activate a security feature that is only apparent under specific optical conditions. For example, the features could be overt, semi-covert and covert features printed with compatible inks.

Other detection options include biometric sensors, including voice recognition and iris recognition are also available. Other sensors, including accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometer compasses, ambient light sensors, proximity sensors and GPS could also be utilized in the authenticating process, but would most likely need to be coupled with compatible security systems.

In addition to the above features, there are other external attachments that you can add to complement the built-in smartphone features. Some of the external attachments include,

All these external accessories are relatively inexpensive and, when combined with some custom software, could yield successful results in authenticating a variety of products.

In summary, smartphones with built-in features and external attachments can be employed in authentication applications and I believe will see increased use as researchers integrate smartphones into authentication systems.

Dr. Jeevan Meruga