New technology could replace security questions for forgotten laptop, iPhone and iPad passwords
Apple has filed a patent for a charger which could act as a physical key to unlock a laptop if a user forgets a password. The patent application (US patent 2012/0005747) claims that it would protect users who have their devices stolen while they are “out and about” and that, in theory, the technology could be applied to any piece of equipment that is regularly used with the computer.
According to the patent, users who forget their password could plug in the cord and it would provide a unique ID number stored in the memory chip of the adapter that serves as a decryption key, unscrambling a backup copy of the password stored on the machine.
This would in theory be better than having to answer security questions that could be guessed or hacked into. Apple says that this would also address the threat of having a device stolen when outside.
“One example is a student that takes her laptop computer to a university class, but leaves the docking station in her dorm room,” the patent read. “Another example is an employee that takes his portable media player to work, but leaves the power cord in a locker.”
The obvious flaw in such a system – pointed out on sites including New Scientist and Forbes – is that if a thief were able to steal a computer and the charger, then hacking into the stolen laptop would become far easier than guessing the security question. However the patents indicated that the technology could be used in items such as iPhones and iPads, which have longer battery lives and are therefore unlikely to be charged in public. Apple could even be looking forward to a time where laptops don’t need to be charged so frequently.
Interestingly, it also says that the patents could be used in any device that is used with the computer, including printers, portable hard drives, wireless routers or an external monitor. Some of these devices are rarely connected to the laptop and could therefore be more suitable.
Although the system isn’t perfect, the patent’s authors say that anything is better than a situation where a user is so scared about forgetting a password that they don’t use one or create one that is likely to be cracked or guessed.
This is especially true of Brits, whose lax attitude towards security has resulted in 67 percent not setting passwords on their mobile devices, even on their laptops. Microsoft is also worried, and from July last year has banned Hotmail users from using common passwords such as ‘123456’ or ‘password’. These are particularly susceptible to hackers who use dictionary attacks in order to gain access to email accounts. Unfortunately, there is no indication as to whether any potential charger would stop using power once a gadget’s battery is full, a provision which it has been claimed, would save the average British household £60 a year.