The iPhone, Fingerprints and Student Authentication

Will fingerprint readers one day replace user ids and passwords as student authentication for online courses?

iPhone Tourch ID

CC-BY-NC-SA by Ryan Ozawa on Flickr

According to ECAR’s study of undergraduate students and information technology (2012) about sixty percent of college students own a  smart phone with about forty percent reporting using their mobile device for academic purposes. Although the majority of students may not currently use their smartphone to access their online classes would this likely change if all they needed to do is pick up the phone to login to their course?

With the new iPhone 5, users can log-in with their fingerprint instead of a user ID and password. The biometric data recognition is securely stored on the phone (as opposed to being uploaded to the cloud). Authenticating biometrics with a device rather than credentials would mean a shift in how we securely access our services.

In 2008 the U.S. Department of Education instituted a student authentication policy as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA). The regulation requires accrediting agencies ensure that institutions offering distance learning verify that the  person completing online coursework is indeed the student enrolled in the course. Currently, all that is required of institutions is that students are assigned a secure user id and passcode, but the regulation goes on to say that as relevant technology becomes more affordable and available, institutions may be required to adopt more effective and secure practices.

I read about a company this morning coming out with a facial recognition mobile solution. It’s a little early to tell where all this is headed but with the rapid growth in online learning along with the evolution of biometric authentication processes via mobile devices it’s not much of a stretch to imagine our phones – as opposed to our credentials – verifying that we are who we say we are.


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