Doug Bonderud

Mar 22nd 2018

Biometrics: From Fingerprints to New Frontiers


Basic biometric securities are now commonplace — smartphone users expect the protection offered by fingerprint scans when they unlock their device, while higher-security access points have begun reliably using iris scanning to authenticate users and reduce the risk of compromise. But this is just the beginning; the human body has a host of unique biological identifiers that could both enhance security and reduce personal access inconvenience. Here’s a look at the new frontiers of personal cybersecurity utilizing biometrics.

Facial Recognition

This type of biometric solution is gaining ground thanks in part to reports that Apple’s next iPhone will use 3-D cameras to capture user facial features, allowing both device access and purchasing permissions. As noted by The Independent, trials of facial recognition software are currently underway in the Brisbane airport — travelers simply “enroll” their passport, boarding card and an image of their face during the check-in process and need only look into a specialized camera to pass through security. Facial recognition is built on a simple premise: by combining the unique profile of an individual face with highly accurate cameras, both security and convenience are enhanced.

Walk Tall

Another area of biometric development is walking pattern or “gait” identification, which uses cameras to capture the unique movements of different people. It makes sense; everyone has their own particular way of getting from place to place, and with the right camera technology, it’s entirely possible to identify these patterns. According to New Scientist, in fact, researchers from the Technical University in Germany have already developed a more advanced version of the technique that can use additional information — such as the shadows on clothing — to produce more accurate results.

Talk the Talk

No surprise that Google biometrics make this list. Engadget reports that the tech giant’s Alphabet spinoff is working on a project called “Abacus,” which would allow devices to be unlocked with a continually updated “trust score” based on user location, speech patterns, vocal recognition and typing habits. It’s a catch-all cybersecurity defense mechanism, but already questions have been raised about how data will be collected and used and how trust scores could be impacted if, for example, users are injured or experience some kind of major life event that changes usual habits.

Can’t Beat ‘Em

Then there’s work by MasterCard and Canadian biometrics company Nymi, which is developing a wristband that authenticates users by referencing data related to their heartbeat. Using near-field communication technology, the wristband allows users to make MasterCard purchases at any Tap and Go enabled terminal by first authenticating their heartbeat data — according to VentureBeat, they’ve already completed a successful test in the wild.

To The Future!

And there’s more where that came from. Companies have already developed military-grade biometric systems capable of capturing fingerprint and IRIS data on the move and checking this data against U.S Immigration and Customs databases and the U.K.’s law enforcement biometric protocol, IDENT1. Next steps include the commercialization of DNA-based techniques, which offer maximum reliability and security. As noted by CIO, these techniques are the “holy grail” of biometric security but since they require organic samples such as hair, nails, bodily fluids or cheek swabs, there’s work to be done in accelerating and streamlining these processes before they become widely available.

Critical Concerns?

No discussion of biometric techniques is complete without mentioning long-term security. As noted by BetaNews, hackers have already managed to crack fingerprint scanners; Jan Krissler circumvented Touch ID the day after it was released. There’s also the problem of ongoing compromise. While losing a password is inconvenient, users can reclaim accounts and change login details after this kind of breach. But what happens if hackers manage to duplicate unique data such as user gait, facial features or heartbeat signatures? How can hacked users reclaim their identity when security protocols say they’re not who they claim to be?

Despite valid concerns, biometrics remains a red-hot development field as companies look for ways to increase security, improve convenience and fundamentally alter the way human beings interact with technology.