Biometrics has long been used in science fiction movies to portray a futuristic world of advanced technology. From retina scans to facial recognition, we’ve seen this technology on the big screen for more than 50 years. Using your fingerprint to unlock your phone or car has now become relatively common.
Biometrics is a technology that measures and analyzes an individual’s unique physical or behavioral characteristics to authenticate their identity. Because biometric data — such as a person’s fingerprint or voice — is unique to each person, it’s useful for authentication and access control.
Biometrics is capable of recognizing more than just fingerprints. Currently, this technology can measure over a dozen characteristics with more coming in the future.
- Chemical: DNA matching
- Visual: face, eyes (iris, sclera, and retina), ears (shape), veins (patterns in palm, finger, or eyes), and signature
- Visual/spatial: finger 3D geometry, hand 3D geometry
- Signature dynamics (speed of movement of pen, accelerations, pressure exerted, inclination)
- Typing (keystroke dynamics)
- Gait (the way we walk)
Physiological measurements typically offer the benefit of remaining more stable throughout the life of a person, but biometrics is the subject of ongoing research and development and is being improved continuously.
You or an organization would record and store your biometric data as a way to identify you. At a high-level, using biometric data can make your life simpler by making your authentication dramatically faster, easier, and more secure than traditional passwords.
Faced with cybercrime, identity theft, document fraud, terrorism, and international regulation changes, new biometric security solutions are being implemented within devices and across industries.
The reality is that passwords, ID numbers, or PINs are not safe and not sufficient as a standalone verification factor. No matter how complex you make your password, there is still often a need for additional layers of security. This is one reason why biometrics is becoming a second means of authentication. Biometric-based authentication is more robust than any other method and ties identity to a specific individual rather than a password or a code that anyone could use.
Also, increased public acceptance, significant accuracy gains, and falling prices of sensors, IP cameras, and software make it easier to install biometric systems.
Putting biometric systems to work for digital security is already expanding, but it is surrounded by controversy as with most new technologies.
Where am I?
Currently, India has the world’s most extensive biometric identification system. The government provides their residents with a 12-digit unique identity number based on their biographic and biometric data (a photo, 10 fingers, 2 iris scans). Their government has shown that this system has reduced corruption and the cost of delivering public services.
Other countries are using national biometric sensor identity cards with fingerprint matching algorithms that are not connected to central biometric databases. These biometric sensor cards may pave the way for easy-to-use, portable, and secure devices.
Is Bio Bad?
Biometrics is controversial, especially in the U.S. The challenge is linked to privacy concerns and our worries about the ability to control our information. Because biometric data is collected for specific security uses, we fear that other entities may use our information for other undesirable purposes. Concerns about our data being housed with corporations or government databases and then fraudulently replicated for other transactions hinder the acceptance of biometric implementations.
For now, acceptable use cases include law enforcement, military, travel, and migration control. Business cases include biometric integration into access control systems for banks and financial institutions. In manufacturing and biotech, some companies are using biometrics for access into facilities with warehouses and offices. Select companies are using it for access to computer systems and networks. Amazon launched the most high-profile use of biometrics with the introduction of palm readers in select Amazon Go stores.
At its core, biometric authentication provides an advantage over traditional security methods, but confusion and fear still hold back mass adoption.