App Turns Smart Phone into Smart Key

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Today lots of office doors open with smartcards, not keys. Just wave your ID, and "open sesame." Now you can do that with some smartphones, using an app called SmartKey. It's based on Near Field Communication, or NFC—a way to send data wirelessly over short distances. Many Android phones already have NFC chips built in.

Here's how SmartKey works. After installing the app, you register with a central server. In a hotel, that would be run by the front desk. They'd verify your smartphone as an authorized guest, and send you an encrypted key—valid only for the length of your stay. Then, wave your phone over your room's lock. In just half a second, the lock verifies the key's authenticity and that the key is stored on your phone, not a thief's.

Want to let a friend in? Ask the app to issue a new key linked to your friend's phone—and just text or email it. The researchers are presenting SmartKey in March at the CeBIT trade fair in Germany. [Alexandra Dmitrienko et al., SmartTokens: Delegable Access Control with NFC-enabled Smartphones]

Researchers say SmartKey could be used for offices, homes or Zipcar. Just make sure to keep your phone under lock and key.

—Christopher Intagliata

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]


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