It’s official: Windows 10 will let users log in using facial recognition, an iris scan or a fingerprint, Microsoft announced on Tuesday (March 17).
The biometric authentication feature, now dubbed Windows Hello, isn’t exactly news — it’s been built into test versions of the operating system and Microsoft developers have been talking publicly for months about the fact that Windows 10 would have biometric security. What’s been lacking is details of what Windows 10 will actually support and how it will work.
From the user’s perspective, it will be simple: Windows Hello will automatically log the user in, once authentication is set up using appropriate hardware such as a fingerprint scanner or a specialized camera for iris or facial scanning. Biometric data used for authentication is stored locally on the device, according to Microsoft VP of operating systems Joe Belfiore. Users or system administrators can choose whether to use the new biometric system or not, and if the right hardware isn’t in place, the system can still be used with passwords and PINs.
The device log-in feature is built on a programming system that Microsoft calls Passport, which can also be used for logging into websites, apps or remote systems.
“Instead of using a shared or shareable secret like a password, Windows 10 helps to securely authenticate to applications, websites and networks on your behalf — without sending a password,” Belfiore wrote. “Windows 10 will ask you to verify that you have possession of your device before it authenticates on your behalf, with a PIN or Windows Hello on devices with biometric sensors.”
While it’s apparent that Windows Hello and Passport could be used for payments, Microsoft’s current push is just to get device makers (both mobile and PC) and online services to support its system. Chipmakers Qualcomm and Intel have both developed hardware to support biometric authentication, but Microsoft’s lack of control over the hardware that will run Windows 10 — especially on PCs — could make it a much slower process than the rollout of Apple’s Touch ID.