A cross-disciplinary team of US neuroscientists and cryptographers have developed a password/passkey system that removes the weakest link in any security system: the human user. It’s ingenious: The system still requires that you enter a password, but at no point do you actually remember the password, meaning it can’t be written down and it can’t be obtained via coercion or torture — i.e. rubber-hose cryptanalysis. The system, devised by Hristo Bojinov of Stanford University and friends from Northwestern and SRI, relies on implicit learning, a process by which you absorb new information — but you’re completely unaware that you’ve actually learned anything; a bit like learning to ride a bike. The process of learning the password (or cryptographic key) involves the use of a specially crafted computer game that, funnily enough, resembles Guitar Hero. Their experimental results suggest that, after a 45 minute learning session, the 30-letter password is firmly implanted in your subconscious brain. Authentication requires that you play a round of the game — but this time, your 30-letter sequence is interspersed with other random 30-letter sequences. To pass authentication, you must reliably perform better on your sequence. Even after two weeks, it seems you are still able to recall this sequence.
The system isn’t very realistic — people aren’t going to spend 45 minutes learning their passwords and a few minutes authenticating themselves — but I really like the direction this research is going.