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You can change a bank password any time you like. You can’t change your voice.

As The Register reports, Barclays wants to abolish passwords:

Barclays is abolishing passwords for its telephone banking customers in favour of voice recognition.

The high street bank – which has been trialing voice recognition technology with a limited number of customers for three years since 2013 – said that technology that identifies a caller based solely on their voice is a “highly secure method of identification that removes the need for security questions and passwords”.

“Each person’s voice is as unique as their fingerprint, made up of over 100 characteristics based on the physical configuration of the speaker’s mouth and throat. Therefore, when a customer calls up to use telephone banking, the technology will be able to identify them simply from the first few words that are spoken,” it added.

I don’t like the idea of using my voice as a means of authentication. My voice has been recorded many many times – on radio interviews, TV broadcasts, podcasts, YouTube videos. It’s “out there”, even before you consider the potential for someone to secretly record me without my knowledge.

So what is the reason that Barclays wants to switch its customers to voice recognition as a means of authentication?

barclays-speech

Let’s look at what the bank says, sentence by sentence:

Keeping track of the multiple passwords, PINs, memorable dates and other authentication details needed to gain remote access to accounts is one of modern life’s less appealing challenges.

Actually I find it really easy, because I use a password manager.

Not only are individuals expected to remember details for an ever-growing number of services – accessed via telephone, web or mobile apps…

No, I don’t expect individuals to do that. That would be barking mad. Instead, use a password manager to remember your passwords for you – and then all you have to do is remember one master password.

…but the issue is compounded by the guidance from service providers and security experts that customers should maintain different sets of sign-ins for different accounts.

Yes, people should use different passwords for different services. But that’s easy with a password manager.

But here’s the best bit…

…experts have historically highlighted a number of key factors that have undermined user acceptance of voice recognition, but which are now fading in importance. One is the ability to deal with background noise (such as a call from a crowded restaurant); another is when the caller’s voice is altered by something like a cold or a throat inflection. In such cases, when the recognition score may be lower than normal, the agent can simply revert to traditional verification layers.

So, all a criminal has to do is call up from somewhere with a lot of noise in the background, or pretend to have a blocked up nose, and they’ll revert to good old-fashioned passwords anyway!

Sigh… so that’s hardly progress is it?

Fundamentally, another worry I have is that if my “voice print” ever gets compromised (and we’ve seen that happen with fingerprints before) I don’t have an option of changing it. But I can change a password any time I like.

Hey, Barclays! Rather than push gimmicky voice authentication (and get yourself into the awkward challenge of keeping your records of my voice print safe and secure from hackers), why not promote password managers instead?

About the author

Graham CLULEY

Graham Cluley is an award-winning security blogger, researcher and public speaker. He has been working in the computer security industry since the early 1990s, having been employed by companies such as Sophos, McAfee and Dr Solomon's. He has given talks about computer security for some of the world's largest companies, worked with law enforcement agencies on investigations into hacking groups, and regularly appears on TV and radio explaining computer security threats.

Graham Cluley was inducted into the InfoSecurity Europe Hall of Fame in 2011, and was given an honorary mention in the "10 Greatest Britons in IT History" for his contribution as a leading authority in internet security.

4 Comments

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  • This has also gone live with Firstdirect. You can opt out on the first call where they warn you about it. Apparently.

  • Bank Leumi in Israel uses this… even worse – they just ask you to speak your ID# digit by digit… easily recorded and replayed.

  • Talktalk are already using voice identification over passwords, however, the last two times I had to contact them, they also asked for specific characters from my password to change details of my account.
    Don't know if this is a good or bad set of circumstances, but the article has certainly made me think.