'Hello' Brings Biometric Authentication to Windows 10

Hello can scan your face, iris or finger to increase security.

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There's no doubt that security is one of the biggest concerns facing computer users today. Hacks are legion; it's likely that if you've ever used a credit card online, someone, somewhere has access to that card number. Even being an expert-level user is no guarantee of security; my identity has been compromised a number of times over the years, and I know the proper steps to take.

Microsoft knows this, too, and has taken big steps to make Windows 10 its most secure operating system ever.

Windows 10, as you may know, will be out on July 29 (and soon thereafter, depending on a number of factors) for you to download. It has many cool new things, but the best of all may be two security features: Hello and Passport.

Windows Hello

Windows Hello is a new biometric security feature that promises to be much more secure than a simple password. Hello allows you to use your face, your eye's iris, or your fingerprint to authenticate yourself to your device, whether it's a laptop, desktop, tablet, phone or whatever.

If it sounds like something out of a spy movie, you've got the right idea. You can show your face to a special camera, or use a fingerprint reader, and Windows 10 will give you access to the system. No passwords to store, lose, or have stolen by the bad guys. Microsoft's Joe Belfiore puts it this way in a blog entry: You'll no longer have to rely on a "… random assortment of letters and numbers that are easily forgotten, hacked, or written down and pinned to a bulletin board."

Microsoft says it has built-in safeguards to ensure that someone doesn't use a picture of you, for example, to fool the facial recognition system, and can still identify a user with makeup or a new beard. Hello works in business settings as well, and will integrate with Microsoft's identity management software.

Windows Passport

Working in conjunction with Hello is Windows Passport, which is a programming system that allows for development of Web sites and other systems to access content that would normally be secured by a password. The idea is that if you're already recognized and authenticated by Hello, that you can use a particular site that's been Passport-enabled without supplying the traditional username/password combination for access.

I could see uses for this on an online banking site, for instance. Being authenticated by Hello means you are really you, and your banking session would be much more secure, since someone who has your password still wouldn't get access. Imagine if this were used on sites like eBay or Craigslist -- our Internet usage would suddenly become much more secure.

Baby Steps

This technology will be available with Windows 10, but beware that many -- maybe even most -- users won't have access to it immediately. Using the facial or iris recognition will take a combination of special hardware and software, Microsoft points out, including a "fingerprint reader, illuminated IR sensor or other biometric sensors." A key piece of hardware will be a special type of camera called a "depth camera." Almost no current devices have that, although it's not hard to imagine that future phones, tablets, etc.

will have them as standard issue (I'm old enough to remember when phones didn't have cameras, for example).

If you have a fingerprint scanner, or can buy one (they're generally not real expensive) that you can connect to your device via USB or some other method, you can use that as your Windows Hello authentication immediately. So not all hope is lost in being able to use this cool technology right away.

Also, this is how all technology starts out -- it's often available on high-end devices, then becomes more generally available (as I mentioned before with cameras in phones.) I'm hopeful that Windows Hello will help usher in an era of safer computing; a time when passwords are tossed on the trash heap of computing history, and we finally gain the upper hand on the bad guys.