How can your heart be used to prove your identity?

13 Jul 2017

Image: Sofiia Balitckaia/Shutterstock

TechWatch’s Emily McDaid spoke to B-Secur to find out more about biometric ID and how your heartbeat can be used to prove your identity.

Catalyst Inc-based B-Secur is taking biometric ID authentication to a whole new level, using not your fingerprints or a retina scan, but your heartbeat.

Each person has an individual heartbeat rhythm, mapped in what health science researchers call the PQRST heart trace. This electrocardiogram (ECG) ‘wave’ pattern – what you see on the A&E screen if you’re watching Doctors – is unique to you. The trace is based upon your physiology, and the way your ventricular and atrial heart chambers contract.

Alan Foreman, B-Secur’s CEO, said: “With fingerprint ID, you’re relying on something outside the body to prove your identity – that’s first-generation biometrics. Second-generation biometrics involve something that resides within your body, which is potentially more secure and harder to fake.”


Alan Foreman, CEO of B-Secur. Image: TechWatch

But my iPhone – with Touch ID – seems pretty secure, so I wondered what level of security we were talking about.

Foreman said: “Border control in the US is one of the most secure environments in the world, and their required standard of error is well below 1pc. Apple Touch ID, which allows for secure payments, comes in well above 1pc. With any security solution, we need to offset convenience for security.

“Biometrics such as ECG are for environments that need to be very secure – logging into your bank account, or starting your self-driving car. And ECG brings an added advantage that it doesn’t require expensive fingerprint-sensing hardware to work.”

Analyst firm Radiant Insights predicts that biometrics will be worth more than $44bn by 2021. B-Secur has staked a claim that it’s the only company combining the ECG sensing technology with the processing algorithms that filter, amplify and authenticate ID using the ECG reading. Global industry analysts, including Gartner and Forrester, have recognised B-Secur’s potential.

“Our patents cover the sensor technology, plus the algorithms and the way in which they’re used,” explained Foreman.

“The sensors can be built into tracking bands for your wrist, or into your clothing, mobile phone or in the case of a car, into the steering wheel. It relies on small microchips only, so the scalability is very promising.”

When attached to your body, the technology provides continuous authentication, eliminating the need to put your finger back on your phone, or to flash a security pass as you move around your office building.

I wondered how long it takes, and Foreman replied: “Just one heartbeat and you’re ID’d.”  For most of us, that will take one second or so.

Does this rely on soundwaves?

“No, we analyse the heartbeat electrical signal across the time and frequency domains to produce a complex template for each individual. This technical expertise exists in Northern Ireland and here at CSIT, which we’ve taken advantage of,” said Foreman.

B-Secur is an example of a start-up diving into the Northern Irish talent pool. “We’re here in Belfast, because, for an early-stage company, the knowledge and talent and an attractive price point is unmatched anywhere else in the world.”

When I asked about future plans, Foreman pointed to news that he can’t talk about yet. His team stands at 14, at present, including eight technologists, most of whom reside in Northern Ireland. “We’ll be announcing some exciting funding and growth plans this year,” he concluded.

By Emily McDaid, editor, TechWatch

A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch

TechWatch by Catalyst covered tech developments in Northern Ireland