Smile for security

If you never forget a face, but have a little trouble with names, you might want to check out Passcenter.com for a different way of logging on to password-protected Web sites.

This free online tool from ID Arts is designed to ease the hassles of remembering passwords for all your Web destinations. The aim is similar to Digitalme and Jotter.com. But where Passcenter differs is in the "password" that you have to remember.

Passcenter takes advantage of ID Arts' new technology, called Passfaces. This technology is based on the theory that faces are easier to remember, but harder to guess, than words. So rather than having you choose your own password, which someone else might guess, or assigning a password that might be difficult to remember, Passfaces lets you prove your identity by making you identify five human faces.

When you register, Passcenter shows you five photographs. The site helps you memorise them, through repetition and key questions. For example, you study each face for a few seconds or minutes, and then Passcenter asks you to ponder such questions as, "What do you think she's like?" or "Who does he look like?"

Once you have studied and analysed your five faces, you have to pick them out of a lineup of nine. Passcenter lets you run through practice sessions until you feel confident that you know your faces.

Amazingly enough, it works. You really do remember the faces. And it's kind of fun, too.

Do you feel secure?

Passface is Passcenter's reason for existing. Since ID Arts doesn't charge or post ads, and promises not to sell your information to third parties, the service does not generate revenue. Perhaps that's why, as a form-completion tool, it leaves a lot to be desired.

For one thing, the user interface is a bit awkward. If you want help filling out a form, you have to go to that site through Passcenter. This is considerably slower, clumsier, and less intuitive than the usual ways of surfing the Web.

Passcenter's posted privacy policy is everything you could want. It uses but doesn't require cookies. And again, the company promises not to monitor or disclose your private information. But does that mean the information is secure?

If you use Passcenter frequently, your credit card number and preferences will eventually be stored on ID Arts' server. Passcenter's FAQ page warns, "We think Passcenter is very secure, but no site is 100 per cent secure."

Paul Barrett, Passcenter's chief executive, offers another security warning. When asked about the site's security, he says, "We don't do anything very clever there -- it's not a secure site."

Passface is an interesting idea and worth checking out. But Passcenter itself is not going to make your Web life easier.

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Lincoln Spector

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