March 18, 2015 By Douglas Bonderud 2 min read

United Kingdom-based bank Halifax is testing electronic wristbands that detect customers’ unique heartbeat patterns and verify them through a smartphone app to grant access, according to Naked Security. However, is this heartbeat monitor the key to next-generation security, or is this idea better suited for fiction, not finance?

Keeping the Rhythm

This new heartbeat monitor uses the Nymi Band, a wristband that measures heart rhythms to confirm an identity and then interacts with other mobile devices. To access bank accounts, several steps are required. First, users must record their heartbeat pattern using an electrocardiogram (EKG), which is then stored on the wristband as a reference point. Next, the wristband must be paired with a smartphone.

When users open their mobile banking app, their phone finds the wristband and they tap a sensor on the top to begin a heartbeat scan. If the pattern matches, access is granted. If the wristband is removed or the heartbeat is wrong, access is denied.

“You could fake someone’s fingerprint, but you can’t fake someone’s heartbeat,” a Halifax spokeswoman said. Meanwhile, the owners of Halifax, Lloyds Banking Group, argue that an EKG reading is a “vital signal of the body and as such, naturally provides strong protection against intrusions and falsification.”

Authentic Wearables

There are two trends responsible for the change happening at financial institutions and other large enterprises: the rise of wearable technology and the need for better authentication. For example, Scotiabank now offers a Samsung Gear-specific app that lets users check their bank balance on the go, while Intel showed off a proof-of-concept wearable shirt last year that could monitor vital signs.

On the authentication side, Yahoo Mail is rolling out a new password-on-demand feature that lets users push one-time passwords to their mobile phones for account access rather than remembering a static set of numbers and letters. There is also an effort by Fujitsu to up the ante when it comes to iris scanning with its new technology, which the company claims has an error rate of just 1 in 100,000.

It’s no surprise, then, that a high-end bank such as Halifax picked up on the idea of marrying authentication and wearable technology to help protect account balances and limit online fraud. As reported by, the next generation of bank clients are ready to rely on biometric, wearable technology. Seventy-five percent of 16- to 24-year-olds asked said they would have “no problem” using these types of security devices, while 69 percent said they expect biometric tools will be faster and easier than PINs or passwords.

The heartbeat monitor is currently in the testing stage, and the bank is now encouraging some of its customers to participate in a trial. It’s only a matter of time until this wearable technology goes live and starts defending accounts from malicious intruders. It’s unlikely that it’s perfect, considering Apple claimed its fingerprint scanner was foolproof and it only took a few days to trick the device. However, faking heartbeats promises to be much more difficult, and beyond the device itself, the willingness of financial institutions to think outside the password box when it comes to authenticating users only bodes well for the wearable and authentication market at large.

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