Biometric Authentication: Definition, Examples, and Benefits

For many organizations, safeguarding customer data, company information, trade secrets, and confidential information continues to be difficult, especially as cybercriminals work on developing new ways to beat even the most advanced security measures. Due to the susceptibility of other security measures to breaches, many organizations are implementing biometric authentication technologies

What Is Biometric Authentication?

Biometric authentication is a cybersecurity process that verifies a person's identity using their unique biological characteristics as their passwords. These can be their irises, retinas, facial characteristics, fingerprints, voices, or other physical characteristics. By comparing a person's biological characteristics against one stored in a database, a biometric authentication system is able to determine whether the person attempting to log in or access data is actually who they say they are. 

Biometric authentication may use a single characteristic or multiple characteristics, depending on the infrastructure and the level of security a company desires. However, many companies today prefer a multimodal biometric authentication system to increase safety, especially as cybercriminals have perfected ways to break through single-factor security. A multimodal biometric authentication, also known as multi-factor authentication, checks various biometrics during identity verification, making it harder for cybercriminals to hack a system. 

Why Do We Need Biometric Authentication?

Many organizations continue to be reluctant to move past conventional authentication methods. They often feel that users may not accept new biometrics security due to privacy concerns or that the technology may be too complex for the typical end-user. However, a closer look at these technologies finds that these concerns are generally unfounded, and using biometric authentication provides the chance to improve performance while boosting security. 

The identification that biometric technologies provide is extremely accurate and guarantees a high-security level for organizations. Most users' PINs, passwords, and personal identifying information have likely been compromised with a data breach, which means billions of accounts or sensitive information can be accessed by cybercriminals who retain the answers to conventional authentication methods. Implementing biometric authentication into the process adds a roadblock for cybercriminals that only a real, authorized person can navigate.

What Are Some Examples of Biometric Authentication Methods?

A company can use many biometric authentication methods for different purposes, each with its strengths and weaknesses. These include the following:

Facial Recognition

Facial recognition is a technology that can identify or verify a person through a video, image, or any audiovisual element of their face. It works by analyzing the geometry of a person's face, including the distance between their eyes, the distance between their nose and chin, etc., to make an encrypted model for their facial data. When authenticating, the facial recognition software scans their face in real-time and matches the scan to the previously verified model on file. 

Fingerprint Recognition

Fingerprint recognition allows individuals to be identified or verified by analyzing and comparing their dermal finger ridges. Each person's fingerprint is unique to them. By analyzing their fingerprint’s unique characteristics, such as their loops and arches, fingerprint scanners generate a digital model, which is then compared to future attempts to authenticate. 

Eye Recognition

Eye recognition or iris recognition compares a person's unique iris patterns and characteristics to verify and authenticate their identity. Like facial and fingerprint matching, eye recognition is more accurate and doesn't require physical contact. This offers more use cases, including the ability to operate at further distances than palm prints or fingerprints. Also, the iris is complex, stable, and unique, which means it doesn't change with age the way fingerprints or faces can. 

Voice Recognition

Also referred to as speech recognition, voice recognition is a hardware device or computer software program with the ability to decode the human voice. This technology is often used to perform commands, operate a device, or write out without having to use a mouse, keyword, or press any buttons. Nowadays, call centers and IT companies use the technology to authenticate callers' voiceprints. The technology can help them avoid fraudulent activities and avoid the hassle of asking several security questions. Combined with face recognition, voice recognition can help create multimodal biometric applications. 

Top Biometric Authentication Use Cases

Biometric authentication is being used in a wide range of applications across many industries. The following are some examples of how these industries are using biometrics to improve the efficiency and safety of existing processes:

Travel, Transportation, and Hospitality

The use of biometric authentication has already impacted the travel or transportation industry, with facial recognition being used at customs kiosks and airport check-in to verify passenger identity for "biometric boarding". The technology is also revolutionizing the hospitality industry. For example, hotels and hospitality companies are implementing self-check-in using biometric authentication. Guests can quickly check-in and out of the premises by taking a simple selfie using their mobile devices. 

Banking and Financial Services

Banks and financial institutions use biometric authentication to protect their customers and themselves. For example, they require biometrics to establish customer identity and provide permission to access an account, whether through a phone or ATM or in person. This keeps accounts secure and protects their customers from losing money. In addition, financial institutions use biometric authentication to admit employees to the building or provide them with intranet access. 

Healthcare

Hospitals are using biometric authentication in healthcare primary for patient and employee identification. This reduces duplication, improves workflow, and makes patients recognized throughout the healthcare system. Further, many healthcare organizations allow their healthcare clients to access their information via cloud-based platforms using biometric screening of face or fingerprints as an identification method. 

Government Agencies

Government agencies typically use biometric authentication to confirm the identity of job applicants and contractors and to verify they're not listed in criminal databases. They also use biometric technology to detect and prevent illegal entry, validate information on visa applications, and keep legal trade and travel moving smoothly. 

Retail and eCommerce

Retailers use biometric technology to develop a database of retail offenders or suspected shoplifters. They can then quickly identify previous shoplifters based on whether the features of their faces match existing profiles in a shoplifter database. In addition, retailers use the technology to speed up employee login. Biometric technology eliminates the hassle of using PINs and passwords to log into systems, enhancing user security and convenience. Retail employees don't need to fumble with long, complex passwords when logging into a system. Instead, they just touch the fingerprint reader or scan their faces to log into the POS terminals. 

ECommerce also uses biometric technology to provide maximum security and comfort to consumers. For example, e-commerce merchants use facial and fingerprint recognition to approve transactions and provide a smoother payment system. 

What is the difference between biometric authentication and traditional password?

Passwords and usernames have been a foundational security measure for many years, but no longer. Several high-profile breaches at major companies and financial institutions have resulted in millions of password and username combinations stolen and listed for sale on the Dark Web—this refers to sites that aren't indexed by search engines and require authorization or special software to access. Combine this with the tendency to repeat passwords over multiple accounts, and the scale of vulnerability to cyberattacks becomes more apparent.

A biometric authentication system is less exposed to this vulnerability, as the person's biometric data is unique. It's very difficult for cybercriminals to fraudulently replicate a person's facial recognition or fingerprint scan when taken by powerful solutions with strong spoof or liveness detection. Yet, it takes only a few seconds for the appropriate person to authenticate. For this reason, biometrics are considered more secure and more convenient than passwords. 

How Facial Authentication Through Facial Recognition Works

Facial recognition technology, such as Incode, uses biometrics to map out facial features captured in a photograph or video still. That features are then compared to the faces in a database. Here are the steps in the process:

Identity Verification

Step 1: ID Document Capture

The first step in the process is ID validation. Incode's biometric technology, for example, captures the best possible photo of identity documents. It then recognizes and classifies the document, performs tests to verify authenticity, and obtains a score for the document presented. 

Step 2: Selfie Capture with Liveness Detection

Once the ID document is validated, a camera with liveness detection technology captures and recognizes a person's face. Biometric liveness is the use of computer vision technology to detect the genuine presence of a living person rather than a representation, such as a mask or a photograph. Incode's liveness detection technology has been certified by iBeta, an independent, globally acclaimed biometrics testing laboratory, to comply with the ISO/IEC 30107-3 Presentation Attack Detection standard following NIST guidance.

After detection and recognition, the person's face is then analyzed. During analysis, the face is separated into distinguishable landmarks, also called nodal points. These points are then converted into a number or mathematical formula in the application database. The entire numerical code is called a faceprint. In the same way that fingerprints are unique, each person has a unique faceprint. 

Step 3: Finding a Match

Once a faceprint is generated, it is then compared to a database of other facial codes. For instance, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has access to about 650 million photos drawn from various state databases. If the person's faceprint matches a photo in a facial recognition database, a determination is made. 

Step 4: Account Creation

Suppose all of these various checks are successful and any additional background checks are performed. In that case, the vetted user will then be provided with account credentials, which historically have been a password and username. 

Identity Authentication

Step 5: Ongoing User Authentication

When the user logs into their account, the user only needs to take a new selfie. Since a complete face map was captured during enrollment, the user only needs to capture a fresh selfie. A new face map is then compared to the original face map taken during enrollment, and a match or no match is made. This authentication process only takes a few seconds to complete. 

Pros and Cons of Biometric Authentication

Here are the benefits and drawbacks of biometric authentication:

Pros

High Security and Assurance

Perhaps one of the most important benefits of biometric authentication is the high security and assurance it offers to organizations. Because it relies on physical characteristics, the technology improves accuracy, proves tough to forge, and reduces the risk of breach. When using conventional authentication methods, such as PINs and passwords, organizations or their clients have a higher risk of having passwords misplaced, copied, or hacked, which can lead to security breaches and high costs. 

Improves User Experience

Biometric authentication takes out the hassle that accompanies password use management. Passwordless authentication through biometrics minimizes, or even downright eliminates, friction for the user. Placing a finger on a scanner and accessing an account in seconds is faster than keying in a long password with several special characters. In addition, taking password authentication out of the equation means taking out of the equation all data security breaches that can be traced back to stolen or cracked passwords. 

Spoof-proof

Biometrics like iris scanning, fingerprints, face patterns, and others are almost impossible to replicate with today's technology. No two people have been found to have similar fingerprints—they're totally unique. In fact, the chance of two fingerprints being identical is less than one in 64 billion. Fingerprints are even more unique than a person's DNA. 

Non-transferable

Biometric authentication requires the physical presence of a person upon authorization. This means that a user can't share or transfer a physical biometric digitally. For example, an entry code for a gym or ID card granting access to enter a building is easy to share, but when using biometrics, this can't be done.

Accessibility

Biometric authentication methods are often straightforward, making them easy to learn and adapt to. Conventional authentication methods can limit access for certain users—e.g., passwords for individuals who can't read or with visual impairments. Biometric authentication technologies enable services to cater to broader user groups and provide better inclusion and accessibility. 

Cons

Costs

Biometric authentication systems can be costly to implement if an organization installs everything from scratch. However, these systems are becoming more accessible as biometric technology evolves. Considering the potential costs of fraud, an investment in a more secure user identity verification solution, and your customer's peace of mind, is worth it.

Data breaches

Biometric information is part of a person's identity. Unlike a PIN or password, it can’t be modified. When cybercriminals access an individual's biometric data, such as voice, facial, retina, or fingerprints, they gain access to information that can be linked to the person's identity forever. Cybercriminals may try to use that information or biometric data at an establishment where the person legitimately uses it to gain entry.

Tracking and Data

Biometric authentication may be convenient, but it may compromise personal privacy. When biometrics are converted into data and stored in countries or places with large surveillance measures, a person risks leaving a permanent digital record, and cybercriminals can potentially track this. 

Governments and organizations have used facial recognition systems to track and identify individuals with accuracy that inhibits privacy. Imagine using facial recognition technology in public places to identify the people passing through. For instance, a large city might set up security cameras in high-traffic areas to scan people's faces and identify terrorists or criminals. Although the motivation for using this technology may be pure, it can create complex privacy issues. 

Bias

Biometric systems use machine learning during fingerprint analysis or facial recognition. When the dataset used to train that biometric system (machine learning) doesn't have an equal representation of all archetypes, the problem with bias arises. Biometric bias can be defined as a system that doesn't operate fairly and accurately based on tasks it's been programmed to conduct. 

False Positives and Inaccuracy

Biometric authentication technology may also incorrectly match a person to someone else's credentials. This issue is called false positive. For this reason, it is advisable to create a second layer of protection by creating a pin or password to use in combination with your biometric factor. This is known as multi-factor authentication.

 

Implement Biometric Authentication with Ease Using Incode

The role of biometric authentication is expanding as it provides higher levels of identity assurance, better protects accounts from identity theft and account takeover, and improves the customer experience and conversion rates. If you're looking for a reliable identification biometric system, look no further than Incode. Incode is a leading identity company that offers a complete omnichannel orchestration system that allows organizations to have a single point to address the identity problem—from onboarding clients in a secure and frictionless way to seamlessly authenticating them once they are onboarded. 

Want to learn more about how Incode can provide value to your company? We’d be happy to help. Get in touch with us today!
 
 

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