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


August 01, 2016

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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?


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?




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.

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