Biometrics in Action: Where Are Popular Forms of Authentication Being Used?

biometrics in action

We’ve discussed the differences between two-factor authentication (2FA) and multi-factor authentication (MFA) in a blog post over at Cloudbric, and one of the differentiating factors discussed was inherence factors. Inherence factors are criteria that relate to “something you are,” and therefore include identifiable biometric characteristics — iris scans, fingerprints, voice authentication all fall under this category.

Because hackers are developing more sophisticated methods for cracking passwords, the extra layers of authentication that businesses have to integrate can complicate the process greatly for users and employees. This is why businesses are naturally turning to single sign-on (SSO) options to carefully secure their information. SSO utilizes elements from 2FA and MFA with a growing trend of utilizing biometrics identification in particular. Businesses have noted that biometric authentication has helped increase security, convenience, and cost savings as they provide stronger security and reliability. So how is biometric authentication being used across different industries?

Iris scans

Because a person’s iris remains stable throughout an individual’s entire lifespan, iris scans serve as a suitable form of authentication in differentiating the identity of one individual from the next. An iris scan utilizes mathematical patterns to distinguish each unique iris by observing a high quality, undistorted image of it. It is then compared against patterns in a database until a match is found. Iris scans are deemed one of the most accurate ways of identifying a person due to its ability to recognize a distinct iris rapidly with low error rates.

Unfortunately, as cool as it sounds, only a handful of industries are utilizing iris scans with installations primarily in the military and government. In the government sector, immigration centers are using iris scans to better streamline nationals entering the country, facilitating a much faster authentication process. In airports, it is also used to expedite security clearance for airline crew members, once again streamlining operations so flights may depart and arrive in a timely manner.

Recently, law enforcement has begun to pick up on the trend, but not without backlash over privacy protections. The FBI for example has collected 430,000 iris scans for a “pilot program” in order to test a new kind of surveillance technology. These iris scans would allow for criminals and or suspects to be identified or tracked down more quickly.

Fingerprints

By now, you’re probably accustomed to using your fingerprint as a method for unlocking your smartphone, but fingerprints have their uses in a multitude of places. Your fingerprint patterns are formed by the unique ridges and furrows of your fingertips. Like iris scans, fingerprints will remain the same throughout an individual’s entire life. In fact, no two fingerprints are alike, even for identical twins. After being scanned, fingerprints are tested against an existing database and compared against all other stored fingerprint patterns to find a match.

Besides its usefulness in law enforcement, private companies have also begun to utilize fingerprints to verify identities. In the service/hospitality sector, hotels have used fingerprints as a way for guests to access their rooms. This offers a more secure way than hotel cards or keys, which could easily be lost or stolen, to access certain services. With the introduction of authentication through fingerprints, companies are considering doing away with “smart” cards. Previously, these smart cards allowed for a smooth experience for the guest staying at the hotels by allowing them to pay for certain services, check in and out, or even save preferences through the smart card. The fingerprint could do all that — and even better, by being more secure and convenient at the same time.

Voice Authentication

Voice as a form of authentication works in a slightly different way than iris scans or fingerprints. This is due to the fact that the physical presence is not necessarily required and voice authentication can be done remotely. An added benefit is that it is less intrusive than an iris scan. However, voice recognition works similarly in other ways. A user first records samples of their voice, which are stored in a database and referred to as a voiceprint. At the time the authentication is being requested, the individual’s voice must match the voiceprint for authentication to be granted.

Because of its benefits and feasibility, voice authentication is the most widely used across different industries, primarily in commerce and finance, finding a niche with banks and security in particular. Utilizing voice authentication in mobile banking, kiosks, ATMs, and safety deposit lockers makes it easier to verify  a person’s identity before they are allowed to use those services.

While industries using biometrics as a way to verify the identity of their customers are increasing in number, the idea is still relatively new. With potential benefits of reducing operational costs, streamlining processes for gaining access to services or reaching destinations faster, more authentication solutions will likely incorporate biometric elements in the future.