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Why Biometrics is actually a simple, secure solution to a massive tech problem

Biometrics is shifting into the consumer space and being readily accepted by users because the industry has started to dispel the myths and deliver convenient security. Apple’s latest iPhone has certainly made inroads into making this technology acceptable to the man on the street, removing the stigma that fingerprint biometrics is only for criminals.

For years, some have seen this technology as a privacy-invading monster that heralded the beginning of George Orwell’s dark future. Now, it is finally being recognised as a simple and secure solution that is very, very clever.

The technology has not been well understood and has been accused of many things. People have been concerned that their fingerprint images are stored, kept on a system somewhere and potentially used to access their accounts or uncover private information. This just isn’t true. Fingerprint images are transformed into secure binary templates that allow for a quick match to provide access to a device or application. The technology does not allow for the fingerprint to be recreated from a template nor does the image need to be retained: nobody else can access it and use it for fraudulent purposes. And, the big brother idea that has many concerned about the ubiquity of using biometrics to access all sorts of data is highly exaggerated.

Data collected through biometrics doesn’t need to be interoperable with other systems and in commercial applications is most often only used to verify an individual’s identity. It is a seamless and painless way of ensuring that the person accessing a particular bank account is actually who they claim to be.

The same principle applies to the idea that a fake copy of a real finger could be used to fool a biometric sensor. Not with sensors that have “liveness” detection or the ability to discriminate between real skin and artificial latex or plastic.

Newer multispectral biometric sensors are also capable of identifying the unique thin ridge lines and fine features in the skin using both surface and subsurface data. The detail is astonishing, and it is one of the reasons why biometrics is now moving into the mainstream.

It is already being used for a wide range of solutions across the globe including verifying electronic prescriptions, verifying identity at bank tellers and ATMs, tracking vaccine records and so much more.

In fact, some biometric solutions are helping solve vaccine delivery issues in Africa which has been hampered by ineffective tracking and reporting. Today, a biometric vaccination registry helps to ensure that millions of young children receive the vaccine that is needed to save their lives. And by knowing “who” has been vaccinated, these precious life-saving drugs are not wasted by over-vaccinating some and missing others entirely.

PINs and passwords are slowly being replaced by a technology that is swifter, more secure and belongs entirely to the consumer. Your fingerprint is uniquely your own. It is your instantaneous and secure digital key that securely grants you access to your private world of money, data and services. Will passwords go the way of the Dodo? Perhaps not, but they are slowly being replaced by something far more efficient and secure — and you don’t need to write anything down on an errant piece of paper!

In fact it’s likely that within this calendar year you will begin to see biometric ATMs and biometrics will become less of an anomaly and more of an expected fixture in South Africa. This trend will be followed by an increase in the use of smart digital devices providing greater security and a more convenient means of personal identification.

As biometrics becomes more accepted in the mainstream it will merge with the capabilities offered by the explosion of smart mobile devices. Consider the possibility of using your biometric identity in combination with a personal device, such as the iPhone 5, to have a totally secure solution that fits in your pocket. Biometrics will continue to see growth and adoption because it’s convenient, secure, adaptable and easy to use. No longer limited to the world of detecting criminals, biometrics is a new digital key in a brave new digital world.

28 Comments

  1. M2SYS Technology

    February 28, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    This is an interesting post but there are a couple of points to consider about how you portray this technology:

    1. It is not impossible for a hacker or criminal to reverse engineer a fingerprint template into an image. It is highly improbably given the complexity, knowledge and resources to do it, but it is possible. This is important to remember because one of the biggest issues about biometrics is the irrevocability of biometric characteristics – meaning, once someone recreates your biometric credential and uses it for nefarious purposes, you can’t be issued another fingerprint. To say that “nobody else can access it and use if for fraudulent purposes” is not accurate.

    2. “Data collected through biometrics doesn’t need to be interoperable with other systems…” – this is also not true especially in the case of healthcare where biometrics is increasingly used for patient identification. As the healthcare industry presses towards developing more interoperable systems that can more easily share data through health information exchanges, technologies like iris recognition (which is a standardized technology through NIST) are needed so that disparate systems that rely on this technology can share information about a patient without a shadow of a doubt as to their true identity. To say that data collected through biometrics doesn’t need to be inoperable is also inaccurate. It most certainly is in some cases.

    Overall, your assessments are accurate about this technology, with a small caveat on the 2 points listed above.

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  24. Valerie

    May 5, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    Here is the Beginning of something Bigger the Mark of the Beast in motion.

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