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Tech Talk

Password logins become primitive plight

2/19/2014

Many of my childhood Saturdays involved the errand of tagging along with my father to his office to pick up something he forgot. He worked in a cubicle maze for a large financial institution in Des Moines. To a small child, spending anytime there was pretty much the equivalent of being sent to “time out.” But for me, I loved those little trips, because my dad’s office had a magical door. Even though the office was dark and locked for the weekend, every time my dad came within 10 feet of the door, it would open without any provocation. It wouldn’t do it for me or my brother, but it did for him, and I was spellbound. 

Years later I would come to understand the building used a technology similar to RFID (radio-frequency identification), meaning a passcard in my dad’s wallet unlocked and opened the door from a few steps away. Today RFID is everywhere, eliminating the need for punch-codes and easing product tracking. While the trick of encrypted remote access may not be as mystical as my 7-year-old self believed it to be, its next illusion might be its greatest — making the password disappear.

Last year, Clef, a software startup, unveiled an application that allows users to log into desktop websites by pointing their phone at their computer screen. Secured by a user-defined pin, the application uses a barcode-style authentication system called Clef Wave and uses the phone’s camera to sync with wave, which verifies the user’s unique digital signature and grants access to a website. This eliminates the need for usernames or passwords.

Clef only works with users who surf the web via Google Chrome, and it does not work for popular sites such as Facebook or Twitter, but Clef has recruited more than 2,000 websites to allow wave access and hopes to expand its reach in the coming year.

Juggling dozens of online passwords can sometimes can be like a janitor with a gigantic digital key ring. While there’s no guarantee Clef is the answer, it’s comforting to know trying password after password at website logins will become a plight of the past. CV               

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Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. For more tech insights, follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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