Logging in by typing usernames and passwords is by far the most common way to access modern computer systems. However, such contemporary user authentication mechanisms are inappropriate in a ubiquitous computing environment, where users constantly are accessing a wide range of different devices. This paper introduces new concepts for user authentication in ubiquitous computing, such as the notion of proximity-based user authentication and silent login. The design of these new mechanisms is part of the design of a ubiquitous computing infrastructure for hospitals, which is grounded in field studies of medical work in hospitals. The paper reports from field studies of clinicians using an electronic patient record (EPR) and describes severe usability problems associated with its login procedures. The EPR’s login mechanisms do not recognize the nature of medical work as being nomadic, interrupted, and cooperative around sharing common material. The consequence is that login is circumvented and security is jeopardized.
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