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Understanding Biometrics

Understanding Biometrics

It’s a familiar scene from many science fiction properties: a person approaches a locked door. They unlock it, but rather than using a key, a red beam scans their eye to confirm their identity and permit them access. The thing is, this and similar biometric authentication technologies are likely to begin appearing in real-world businesses sooner than later. Let’s discuss:

What Are Biometrics?

Biometrics are a form of authentication that, instead of using a password or key code, leverage some physical attribute or qualifier. These could include fingerprints, voice patterns, and even the rhythm that a person uses to type. Not only are they easier for a user to leverage, they can be compounded, enhancing security as well as supporting many other business practices.

Let’s dive further into the kinds of biometrics that can be leveraged by a business (although not all of them are practical to do so as of yet).

Biometric Types

There are two primary types of identifiers that any biometrics rely on, physical identifiers and behavioral identifiers. Physical identifiers, as listed below, are far more commonly seen today:

  • Signatures - Chances are, you’ve seen this variety of biometrics a great number of times in your personal and business life. This signature serves as a confirmation that the person fulfilling an action--be it a transaction or an agreement--is authorized to do so. From retail outlets to financial institutions, this biometric technology is very common in day-to-day life.
  • Fingerprints and Physiological Attributes - This is another common form of authentication, as it is likely you use it to unlock your smartphone. Scanning someone’s fingerprint as a means of confirming their identity has been used for quite some time and has been adopted by many companies and individuals. Physiological recognition is also commonly used, as evidenced by palm scanners, retinal scanning, and facial recognition.
  • Voice - Voice-based authentication is also increasingly common in all walks of life, personal users commanding their virtual assistants and businesses utilizing voice authentication to enable their automated answering systems.
  • DNA - While the technology still has a ways to go, there is some promise of DNA sequencing transitioning from a cinematic feature to a practically-used solution.

There are also behavioral identifiers that newer forms of biometric authentication are able to pick up on. These methods are largely still in development.

  • Typing Patterns - Understandably, just like people write differently, they type differently as well. Therefore, by measuring how quickly a user types, the pressure they apply to the keys, and even the time it takes to move between keys, a user’s identity can be confirmed.
  • Navigation and Engagement - Expanding on the basis of typing pattern analysis, our use of technology is distinctive enough from person to person that other behaviors are indicative of our identity. Therefore, everything from our mouse movements to how we actually hold and use a device can be used as a secondary authentication measure now, and potentially be a standalone security measure someday.

Reliability (and Risks) of Biometrics

As it currently stands, biometric authentication is a problematic technology, simply because the ‘key’--the user--can be inconsistent. Voices can sound different for a variety of reasons, and fashion choices can easily change one’s appearance enough to frustrate a biometric system. Imagine not being able to access the office because you experimented with a new haircut or picked up a fashionable new pair of spectacles! However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to cheat these systems. Photos can be effective, as can recordings of one’s voice.

This is why most experts suggest that, if biometric authentication is to be used, multiple factors are taken into account.

Security is a Major Concern

Of course, this kind of data will also need to be heavily protected for the sake of the user’s privacy. Furthermore, it isn’t as though these are the kinds of credentials that can be easily changed. For these reasons alone, it will likely be quite a while before biometrics truly become the norm.

One thing is for sure, you need to ensure that your business’ data is secure. White Mountain IT Services has the solutions that can help. Give us a call at 603-889-0800 for more information.

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