Microsoft has incorporated a fingerprint reader to its latest premium keyboard, a move the company hopes will help purchasers improve security and log into their favorite accounts faster. Descriptively named the Microsoft Modern Keyboard with Fingerprint ID, the recently-released input device features a "hidden" biometric scanner, according to the company.
But Hidden is a relative term. Microsoft has indeed packed a fingerprint reader into a seemingly conventional key, meaning there is no telltale sensor strip to give away its presence or otherwise mar the keyboard's sleek aesthetics. But upon closer inspection, a fingerprint icon gives the sensor's position away, next to the right Alt key.
The key/scanner works with Windows Hello, the biometrics security technology included in Windows 10. After setting up Windows Hello, users can configure the feature to enable sign-ins with a quick press of the key.
Combined, Windows Hello and supporting hardware can help users avoid falling to one of the most common causes of compromised accounts—password reuse.
Juggling multiple online accounts, each with a distinct and tough-to-guess password, is simply too burdensome for a lot of people. As a time-saving shortcut, many users simply reuse the same password across multiple services. The problem with this approach is that if one service is breached, attackers can use leaked credentials (often email-password pairs) to gain unauthorized access to other services.
In 2014, following a massive leak affecting 5 million Google accounts, WordPress proactively reset 100,000 passwords in an attempt to head off any possible attacks stemming from password reuse. A study by security firm Digital Shadows found that password reuse was disturbingly common is its analysis of millions of compromised credentials from top companies.
"Studies show more than 80 percent of people use the same password across multiple web sites, managing around 20-30 different accounts. We want to make sure that everyone running Windows 10 can experience the beautiful relief that comes from letting go of your written Pa55w0Rd5," Jennifer Thompson, product marketing manager at Microsoft Accessories, wrote in a blog post. "So we worked to deliver a predictable, intent-driven and simple solution for someone to quickly and securely log into their PC, or authenticate an action."
Enhanced security aside, Windows Hello can be a time-saver, added Thompson. Using the new fingerprint sensor, successful logins take less than two seconds, or three times faster than it typically takes to type in a password, she claimed.
Those capabilities aside, the keyboard features an aluminum top case and keys with 2mm of travel. Connectivity options include Bluetooth 4.2 or a wired connection. The unit's built-in rechargeable battery lasts up to four months between charges.
Matching the keyboard's premium look and feel is its price tag. Microsoft Modern Keyboard with Fingerprint ID retails for $129.99.
For buyers looking for a matching mouse, Microsoft has crafted a suitable companion accessory.
The Microsoft Modern Mouse ($49.99) has a metal scroll wheel and is designed with a to keep users' hands in a wrist-friendly position. Unlike its corresponding keyboard, it runs on two AAA batteries, but they only need to be replaced about every 12 months, according to Microsoft.