Banish passwords and unlock your PC with Windows Hello

Passwords are so old-fashioned. And insecure. Often, after a high profile website hack we’re asked to change our passwords because most people use the same password for multiple services. So, what’s the answer? Well, not using the same password for multiple sites might be one solution but that leads to problems with remembering passwords (which is why I use a password manager). Others think the solution lies in biometrics (and I’d certainly consider that as a second factor).

Windows 10 has an interesting new feature called Windows Hello. Rather than relying on a password, or a PIN (which is ultimately the same thing, once it’s been hashed…), Hello uses facial recognition to determine whether you can have access to a PC or not – and I’ve been testing it for a few weeks now.

Actually, we have two PCs in our house that can use Windows Hello: my wife’s Lenovo E550 (using the fingerprint reader or optional 3D camera); and the Lenovo B50 All-in-one PC I have on loan also includes the 3D camera that is required for facial recognition (iris readers will soon be available too). And in case you’re reading this and getting worried about a copy of your face being shared around the Internet, Hello’s facial recognition uses infra-red technology with the camera to capture data points (a kind of graph of your face) rather than a picture itself and the data never leaves the PC (where it is stored in encrypted form – you can read more in Microsoft’s Windows Hello privacy FAQ).  In essence, you have possession of a device; you unlock it with your face (or other biometrics); and then Windows Hello authenticates on your behalf but your biometric information is never transferred.

I was a bit confused at first to find that Hello was not available on the B50, until I discovered that the OOTB drivers were not up to the task – once I’d installed the Intel RealSense Depth Camera Manager (DCM) drivers, Windows was happy to learn how my face looks and Windows Hello jumped into life.

“So, what’s it actually like to use?”, you might ask.

Setup is just a case of following a wizard to let Windows recognise your face and after that it’s really, really straightforward.

Windows Hello setup - welcome! Windows Hello setup - make sure it's you Windows Hello setup - say cheese! Windows Hello setup - all set! Windows 10 sign-in options, including Windows Hello

Just make sure you look directly at the PC (no slurping a cuppa whilst waiting for it to recognise you).

Sometimes the camera takes a while to wake up when the PC resumes from standby (a driver issue, I expect – they seem to be under constant iteration) but in general it seems pretty reliable. It seems to cope well with varying lighting conditions too – whether I have a full ceiling light on, daylight from the window, or a little desk lamp; and I’ve moved offices since I originally set it up – that doesn’t seem to make a difference either. And there’s no problem with variations in the amount of facial hair I’m wearing on any given day. Apparently, even identical twins don’t fool it

Logging on to my PC with little more than a wiggle of a mouse (to wake it up) and a stare is great… it’s a shame I’ll have to give the PC back soon.

Further reading

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