Biometric Authentication: An Overview
Biometrics are calculations and measurements related to a person’s bodily characteristics such as retina, fingerprints, face, palm veins, DNA, iris, voice, etc.
And biometrics authentication is the method of authenticating a user based on recorded biometrics information when they try to access a physical resource like a building or room or a digital resource like a system or application. If the two records match, the user can access the system.
This is one of the branches of identity and access management that’s also used for identifying a user in groups under surveillance.
Biometrics are distinctive and measurable and can be physical or behavioral. Physical characteristics may involve fingerprint scanning, iris recognition, face recognition, palm print, hand geometry, etc. On the other hand, behavioral characteristics can be a person’s behavior or pattern, such as signature, voice recognition, typing rhythm, gait, keystroke, etc.
Types of Biometric Authentication
Based on the identifiers, there are different types of biometric authentication individuals and organizations currently use.
This is one of the most used biometrics authentication systems where an individual’s fingerprint acts as the identifier. Fingerprints are unique to individuals, and hence, can be trusted highly.
It is used to secure smartphones, automobiles, applications, and buildings. Many organizations use it not only to verify their employees but also to track their attendance instead of relying on physical modes.
Fingerprint scanners can be of three types:
- Optical scanner: It captures an image of an individual’s finger and scans the print pattern to compile the data into a unique identification code.
- Capacitive scanner: It measures electrical signals coming from a finger to the scanner. The scanners map contact points between the finger-scanner and air gaps between them to form a unique pattern for verification. It is mostly used on laptops and smartphones.
- Ultrasound scanner: The next-gen method will emit ultrasound waves that will reflect into the scanner, forming a finger map.
In this type of scanning, an individual’s retina or iris is scanned to measure a unique pattern for identification. It is a bit tough to implement as it needs infrared light, low light pollution, and a camera to capture infrared light to produce an accurate pattern. It is a highly accurate method used in organizations that need optimum security, such as military and nuclear research facilities.
This method uses an individual’s facial anatomy for identification. As facial features are identical for each individual and can be a similar one in a trillion, it can also be trusted.
Face recognition involves scanning facial features like eyes, lips, nose, the distance between nose and lips, etc., and comparing these characteristics to other images during authentication to find a perfect match. It also analyses an individual’s skin texture, unique lines, wrinkles, beauty marks, etc. These are formed into a mathematical calculation.
Face recognition is mostly used in smartphones, law enforcement, and credit card payments.
However, facial recognition systems can be fooled with makeup, masks, and so on. For this, advanced technologies, like thermal imagery, can be used.
Voice recognition is becoming famous now after a lot of services are coming after it. In this, the voice characteristics such as tone, frequency, pitch, etc., of an individual are used for authentication.
This is used in different industries like banking.
These were the primary modes of biometric authentication. There are a few more common modes apart from them, such as:
Vein recognition uses unique blood vessel patterns in an individual’s finger or hands for authentication. This method requires infrared light for mapping the veins under their skin. It is highly accurate and advanced biometric authentication like iris – or retina-based authentication.
These are also becoming famous these days and used in an organization that needs the highest level of security in its applications, systems, or facilities.
Gait and Typing Recognition
Gait recognition is a behavior-based biometric authentication system. It authenticates people by analyzing their walking pace and style. As it is behavior-based, the system does not need a user trying to access a system to be in direct physical contact with the authentication system.
Typing recognition involves authentication based on an individual’s typing parameters like speed, the amount of impact they exert on the keyboard, and the time taken to move from one letter to another.
There are many other types of authentication systems that include hand and finger geometry, DNA-based, and more.
How Does It Work?
Biometrics authentication requires two data sets. The first data set is recorded or pre-set on the authenticating system’s database, while the other is provided by the user trying to access a building, system, or device.
The biometrics authentication system compares the two data to find a match. If it finds the match or the two data are almost identical, the user is authenticated. It means the actual user and the requesting individual are the same.
However, the two biometrics data do not match 100% as there is a slight difference coming due to instances like sweat on the finger or scar on the face. Hence, nearly identical is what the biometrics systems look for.
Benefits and Challenges of Biometric Authentication
There are certain benefits and challenges to biometric authentication. Let’s look at the benefits first.
Biometrics such as the face, retina, iris, fingerprints, DNS, vein maps, voice, etc., are unique to every individual. They are nearly impossible to fake as far as the current technology is concerned. The face can be matched one in a trillion, and fingerprints can match one in 64 billion. Therefore, the chances are that the user trying to access a system is real.
By adopting these secure authentication systems, an organization can implement the highest level of security in their premises or for their applications and devices so that unauthorized users cannot enter their facilities or systems. This is why biometrics are used in military, nuclear research facilities, and other sensitive and security demanding areas.
Requires the user to be physically present
If an unauthorized user tries to access your facility or system, they need to be present before the authentication system in order to gain access. It’s not possible if they are away.
Hence, it increases the difficulties for the hacker to access information or carry on a breach. They can be caught red-handed while executing the authorized access, and if the security is tight in your facility, you can avoid them from running away. Thus, not anyone can try and invite that big trouble for themselves.
Easy to Use
Biometrics authentication is rather easy compared to other systems. In other methods, the users need to produce acceptable information such as a password or username, OTP, etc. that can be troublesome for users. They will have to memorize the credentials.
But in biometrics authentication, the user is the key. They have characteristics that can authenticate them to access a system or facility. If fingerprint scanning is enabled, they just have to put their finger, let the system scan it, and gain access.
The entire process takes a few seconds or a fraction of a second. This makes it convenient for users apart from being secure and time-efficient as well. It also helps them to be more productive as a result of hassle-free authentication.
The biometrics of an individual cannot change. And if you have enabled it and someone intending harm learns it, you can’t modify the parameters. They can have a copy of the parameters and may access your systems using it to gain information.
There are incidences where researchers have seen vulnerabilities in biometrics authentication systems. Smartphones are prone to malware and hijack, and hackers can infiltrate the system to extract the user fingerprint. It may result in data loss and unauthorized payment.
No remote work
As biometrics need to be present physically before the user for identification, there is no scope for remote work. It is a disadvantage in the present world going through a pandemic, and remote work is a need.
Biometrics is being used in various industries, including:
- The Healthcare sector uses biometrics authentication for verifying patients and securing their data. It’s helpful when the patients visit again, and doctors could see all their medical data easily to provide proper care.
- The finance and banking sectors use it for customer identification and processing information faster.
- The academic sector uses biometrics authentication to keep student records and track attendance and teachers’ work hours.
- Businesses use the system for user authentication in order to protect their systems and apps, track employee attendance, and perform record-keeping
Biometrics authentication offers security, ease, and faster verification of user identity. This is why its usage has increased in various sectors, from healthcare and banking to academics. Hence, its growth is likely to increase in the future.