Yes you read right. You get to use your face to log into Windows! This is called facial recognition and it’s something you’ve no doubt seen on television, movies and even on modern day point-and-shoot cameras. Rather than having to type in long and complex passwords, you can now simply use your face instead to log in to your Windows machine. Will this technology be something you’ll use everyday or is it just another gimmick/fad that will leave you hitting the uninstall button right after? Personally, I think using facial recognition to log in to a computer system, although not a gimmick, is best suited for higher level security environments. That’s not always the case though as one of the main benefits I see of using this technology are for users who have a hard time typing on their keyboards or mobile devices.
A Little History…
When you want to authenticate to a computer system, what is usually the first thing that comes to mind? No doubt, you should be thinking of a username and password! This authentication mechanism has been around for ages and for the most part, have worked quite fairly well in the past. Now days however, as attackers get more sophisticated with their attack methods, relying solely on passwords alone can have disastrous consequences. Using passwords have always been considered “something you know” in the security realm. It makes sense because anyone who wants to log in to a user account must *know* the password. If another individual also happens to know that same password, he or she can impersonate you and trick the system into believing it. This of course, is bad, really bad.
To counter the reliance of just that one factor of authentication, modern computers (especially in enterprises and medium-large organizations) can now accept a “multi-factor” authentication log in system. In addition to something you know, you must now supply something you “have” before the system will grant you the right to successfully authenticate to it. The “something you have” in most cases includes a smart card associated with your user account. Therefore, even if someone comes into knowledge of your password/PIN, they will still need to somehow “steal” or “borrow” your smart card before they can impersonate you. Chances of that happening is slim, but not impossible.
This leaves us with the third and final way to authenticate to a system: something we “are”. To put in another word, biometrics. This authentication method calculates something that is a part of us. Examples of biometric authentication includes but not limited to, our fingerprint, hand/palm size and pattern, our voice, retina (eyes) display, and our facial features. Combine this authentication method with the password system and now someone has to come in possession of your password in addition to well, your fingerprint or other biometric data that belongs to you. As you can see, this is much harder. Chances of someone impersonating you on the computer system is much, much more hard. However once again, this doesn’t mean it’s totally impossible, just much less likely.
Facial Recognition with Blink! by LuxandIt seems that Blink! by Luxand is no longer a free software. At the moment, there is no demo or trial version of the software. So, unless you are willing to pay the amount being asked, I’m afraid you won’t get to try this out.
Users have no doubt in my opinion have always wanted a better, if not “cooler”, method to authenticate to Windows. With Blink! by Luxand, Windows users can now enjoy using facial recognition technology to authenticate to their laptops and desktops. Let’s see how to get Blink! up and running before going into my pro’s and con’s with the software.
1. You can download Blink! from here. Blink! is a freeware (how awesome is that?!) and they have just recently released a new version that is compatible with both 32-bit and 62-bit editions of Windows Vista and Windows 7! In the past, Blink! was only available for 32-bit systems.
2. Getting Blink! setup is totally mess-free (at least in my case). Considering what it’s meant to do, I was very pleased in that aspect. Start the executable by simply double-clicking on it and accept the UAC prompt should it appear. Clicking the Options button will allow you to customize the program name in your Start Menu along with the location you want Blink! to be installed in. Sticking to the default should be fine for most users.
3. Blink! will now install itself onto your system. Once that completes, it will automatically detect cameras attached to your computer. Obviously, if you have more than one camera attached, select the one you want to use for logging in with Blink!. This camera will be automatically activated once you are in the Windows log in screen. In my case, I only have one camera and that’s the one integrated into my Lenovo laptop so not much to choose from in my scenario. In most cases, if you have an external camera, it should be better in quality than compared with the camera integrated with your laptop. So you’ll definitely want to choose that one for the best results. Make your selection and hit Apply.
4. Blink! will now help you get set up by creating a facial profile for your account. Be sure to follow the instructions given to you! When you hit Next, your camera will automatically turn on and Blink! will start scanning your facial features. Be sure to slowly turn left to right as stated in the instructions.
5. After 10-15 seconds, Blink! should have your profile ready. You can then enter your current password for your user account. Hit Finish and that should be it!
To test out Blink!, save any work you have currently open and simply log off your computer. You should notice the new Blink! window above your user account icons. Wait a few seconds and your camera should automatically turn on. The rest I’m pretty sure you know what to do! As soon as Blink! recognizes your face, log on will proceed all without you having to type or press anything!
6. Once you are back inside Windows, you’ll notice the Blink! software tray icon in your notification area. Right click on it and select Settings to customize Blink!.
To disable Blink! and therefore disable facial recognition log on, hit the Disable button. If you want to delete your current facial profile Blink! has of you, hit the Delete button and create a new one. Blink! suggest that you delete your profile any time you use a new camera. To select a different camera for use with Blink!, hit the Camera button. The Help button will open up Blink’s CHM help file where you can learn more about Blink!. If you don’t want Blink! running when you log into Windows, hit the Don’t Run button. Note however that Blink! will still allow facial recognition log in’s even if this is enabled. To view your computer’s log in History, hit the History button. Blink! captures a snapshot of anyone trying to log on to your system whether they use Blink!’s facial recognition log on feature or not. For the two radio buttons at the bottom, selecting High Convenience will allow Blink! to learn your facial appearance every time you log on. Choosing High Security mode instead will stop Blink! from re-learning your facial appearance every time.
Pro’s and Con’s
– “Coolness” factor.
What better way to impress your friends than to show them your laptop/desktop configured for facial recognition?!
– Complex passwords.
One of the main benefits of using Blink! is so that users don’t have to remember their long and complex Windows log on password. Therefore, you can increase security on a computer by assigning highly complex passwords to all your users and use Blink! to perform facial recognition for log on.
– Lighting environment.
In order for Blink! to successfully recognize your face, your lighting environment is very crucial. Too bright and it will fail. Too dark and it will also fail. Therefore, expect problems to crop up when trying to use Blink! in a room with the lights turned off! This also depends a lot on the quality of your camera. However, I doubt even a external camera can detect your face in complete darkness! Your computer/laptop will no doubt provide some light but whether it is enough or not for Blink! to determine who you are, I cannot know for sure.
During testing, there were several times where Blink! simply would not recognize me. I would be left staring at my own face at the log on screen just waiting and hoping that Blink! will finally recognize me and log me in. It could be that it is still trying to “learn” my facial features to better build a profile of me but this is quite concerning. If some switched over to High Security mode in the Settings menu, than they are basically prohibiting Blink! from gathering more data on their faces. And that is not good at all if Blink! has a hard time of quickly detecting and analyzing user’s faces during log on.
Not sure if this issue pertains to just my laptop but I notice that my built-in camera takes anywhere from 3-4 seconds to initialize at the log on screen. If my camera isn’t initialized, Blink! can’t perform its magic. 3-4 seconds is a lot as during this time delay, I can simply just use my fingerprint reader instead. If Blink! has problems recognizing your face for whatever reason, the delay will obviously be longer.
– No multi-factor.
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, multi-factor authentication makes it much more difficult for malicious users to impersonate as another user. If Blink! can be forced to be a required authentication mechanism along with a user’s password, a computer can be much more safe from authentication attacks. On the other hand, if multi-factor authentication is enabled and Blink! has a problem with recognizing your face during log on (you’re in a dark environment perhaps), then you’ll be locked out of your own system! Using facial recognition as a multi-factor authentication method is great if the computer is accessed in the same environment every time. For example, the computer doesn’t change location and the lighting around the computer is always the same. If not, using a fingerprint signature as a multi-factor authentication is much more desirable.
– Easy history bypass.
This really doesn’t concern Blink! as a program itself. Taking a snapshot of any individuals logging into the system, whether they use Blink! or not is pretty neat. This feature aims to capture a person’s face who logs into an account that he or she shouldn’t have access to. If I know the password to some other person’s user account and when I’m prepared to log on and see the camera light being turned on or the big Blink! camera window on the log on screen, I’ll know to be cautious! Who wouldn’t? What’s the easiest thing to do at this point? Simply avoid looking into the camera while typing the stolen password! I’ll then be able to log on as that other person (since there is no multi-factor authentication) and my face isn’t captured in the history section of Blink!.
In the End…
I’m glad there is a freeware out there that allows regular home users (and small companies) to utilize facial recognition as a means to authenticate on a system. However, I still believe that using facial recognition is meant to be used in areas where physical security needs to be as high as possible. I’m talking about highly classified government, military and hospital areas. Casual home users should get the most kick out of Blink!. I can picture some specific uses for Blink! in a small organization but in many of those cases, using fingerprints as a biometric method for authentication rather than facial is much more suitable and less prone to errors. Do I think facial recognition is a gimmick in the end? Of course not! I just think there’s still a lot to work on before it can be labeled as a viable means of authentication when the general public is concerned. If you are looking to deploy some sort of biometric authentication method, then look into fingerprint authentication as a viable alternative to facial recognition. Blink! is a great and new toy to play with if you haven’t tried facial recognition before but you might end thinking it to be useless in the end and that simply typing in your password (even if it’s long and complex) might just be easier and faster. So, your mileage may vary with this one!