Biometric authentication stands as a robust and efficient approach to safeguard digital devices and data, offering heightened security and convenience compared to traditional authentication methods. Nonetheless, it carries its own set of challenges, encompassing concerns about privacy, false positives, and considerable costs.
In today’s digital age, securing our digital devices and data from cyberattacks is paramount. One of the most popular and intriguing ways to achieve this security is through biometric authentication.
Biometric authentication uses a person’s unique physical or behavioural characteristics to verify their identity.
When you hear the word “biometrics,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it biologists meticulously measuring vials of cells in a lab, a science teacher grading their students’ tests, or perhaps an image of Batman utilizing cutting-edge biometric tools to solve crimes?
The term “biometrics” can be somewhat abstract, but if we break it down into its two components, “bio” and “metrics,” it becomes more tangible. “Bio” relates to biology, the scientific study of life and living organisms, while “metrics” involves systematically measuring data.
Now, how can these seemingly incongruous concepts come together to create a robust authentication system that enhances security in the digital world?
Many experts argue that because biometric identifiers are unique to each individual, biometric identification offers greater security than traditional passwords, two-factor authentication, or knowledge-based answers.
It’s no wonder that biometrics have captured the public’s attention, as 74% of consumers now perceive physical biometrics as the most secure method for digital identity verification.
In this article, we will explain how a basic biometric recognition system works, explore various biometric types and their applications, and, most importantly, analyze the biometrics authentication advantages and disadvantages.
What is Biometric Authentication?
Biometric authentication is a security mechanism that uses an individual’s distinctive physical or behavioral traits to identify them.
These systems can identify various traits such as facial features, iris or retina patterns, fingerprints, voice, and even DNA.
These unique characteristics are stored in a database, and when an individual attempts to access a system or data, their biometric information is compared with the information in the database.
Biometrics have been employed for identification verification since 1883 when French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon utilized body measurements to detect repeat offenders.
Today, enterprise adoption of biometric authentication is growing in the modern era due to the effectiveness of biometrics in controlling access to devices, locations, and sensitive data.
Biometric Types and Their Indicators
Although nearly every bodily part may be assessed, not all biometric traits should or should be used to confirm a person’s identification.
Certain characteristics are more distinctive by nature than others, and because of technological limitations, some of these characteristics are difficult to quantify.
Biometrics can be categorized into two main types: physiological and behavioral biometrics, both of which the biometric advantages and disadvantages are made evident.
While physiological biometrics rely on specific physical patterns in a person’s body, behavioral biometrics are related to patterns associated with an individual’s actions.
Physiological biometrics include:
- Fingerprint: The ridges on your finger.
- Hand Geometry: Finger spacing, finger length, and other hand-related measurements.
- Palm Print: The unique lines found on your palm and measurements of palm thickness and width.
- DNA: Every individual on Earth shares 99.9% of their DNA with everyone else. However, a person can be identified with a high degree of precision with just a 0.1% variation.
- Blood: Blood type is a distinctive feature.
- Facial Measurements: Includes ear geometry, nose shape, head size, eye distance, hair color, etc.
- Iris and Retinas: Identification based on iris or retinal patterns. According to Research by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), iris scans are 90-99% accurate.
- Veins: Analysis of vein patterns in the eyes and hands. Vein recognition—also referred to as vascular biometrics—identifies a person by utilizing their subdermal vein patterns.
The most precise biometric technology available now is vein recognition. However, using a wax hand, researchers have already succeeded in vein detection.
Therefore, even if it works well for individual identification, it is vulnerable to attack.
- Heart Beats and EKG: Heartbeat patterns and electrocardiograms.
Behavioral biometrics encompasses the unique ways in which individuals act. It includes:
- Typing Rhythm and Keystroke Dynamics: How an individual types and their keystroke patterns.
- Walking Gait: Identifying individuals based on their walking patterns.
- Voice and Speech Inflections: Recognizing unique vocal patterns. Voice recognition systems are 90% accurate on average.
- Gestures: Identifying individuals based on specific hand gestures.
- Web Navigation: Patterns in scrolling and swiping while using the internet.
- Written Text Recognition: Recognizing unique handwriting or font styles.
- Geo-location and IP Addresses: Identifying individuals based on their geographic location and IP addresses.
- Purchasing Habits: Analyzing patterns in an individual’s purchasing behavior.
- Device Use: Recognizing users based on their device usage patterns.
- Browser History and Cookies: Tracking user behavior through web browsing history and cookies.
How Do Biometrics Work?
When exploring biometrics authentication advantages and disadvantages, it’s essential to grasp how biometric authentication systems work. These systems operate by capturing and measuring unique biological inputs a user provides.
Subsequently, this captured data is transformed into a template, often called a “lock,” which becomes the reference point for future authentication attempts.
The biometric characteristics are stored as data, either on the device itself or within a cloud platform, typically during the enrollment phase.
Consequently, when a user endeavors to access a system or data, the biometric sensors compare their input to the stored data, functioning as the “key” to unlock the service or account.
It is important to note that the biometric template, or “lock,” doesn’t contain the complete image of the biometric data provided by the user. Instead, it consists of a code that describes the biometric features within the context of the specific biometric technology.
This level of abstraction ensures that even if a hacker gains access to the template, they won’t have access to sensitive images of people’s biometrics or the ability to unlock services protected by those biometrics.
To successfully authenticate, a live biometric input is needed, and this adds an extra layer of security.
Advantages of Biometric Authentication
In light of biometric authentication’s advantages and disadvantages, biometric authentication offers several advantages that make it an appealing choice for modern digital applications:
1. Improved Security
Biometric identification provides a high level of security by verifying “something a person has” and “something a person is”.
It provides a higher level of security than traditional authentication methods like passwords, PINs, or security tokens, making it difficult for fraudsters to gain unauthorized access.
Furthermore, an iris scan can currently only be completed by a live, breathing human; a robot would struggle to provide biometric security.
Biometric authentication is convenient and quick from the user’s perspective. It is quicker to unlock an account in seconds by putting your finger on a scanner.
Users no longer need to carry around security tokens or memorize complicated passwords. They must provide their biometric information, making the process seamless and user-friendly.
Every person can access a distinct set of fingerprints. Most biometric authentication technologies can only be used in conjunction with a physical app.
Biometric data cannot be transferred nor shared digitally as it requires input to be present upon authorization, which further enhances security.
Furthermore, biometric authentication provides non-repudiation, meaning individuals cannot deny their actions, as their biometric data ties them to the activity.
When discussing biometrics authentication advantages and disadvantages, one significant advantage to note is that biometrics are challenging to fake or steal due to their unique and individual nature.
The likelihood that your fingerprint will exactly match the fingerprint of another person is one in 64 billion.
5. Saved Company Cost
Biometric data often saves companies money because it uses less server space than traditional authentication measures and eliminates the need to reset passwords.
The biometric system is one system per organization. Whether a novel project or a brand-new department, the company can employ the technology for multiple purposes. For both large and small enterprises, it is the most scalable safety system available today.
For instance, banks are spending money on biometrics—which allows customers to sign with their smartphone fingerprints—and reasonably priced mobile app development!
Disadvantages of Biometric Authentication
While biometric authentication offers enhanced security and convenience, it also comes with its share of disadvantages:
Although biometric data uses less server space, implementing and maintaining biometric authentication systems for better effectiveness can be costly, involving significant investments in both hardware and software.
According to a Spiceworks poll in 2018, 67% of IT workers say the cost is “the biggest reason for not embracing biometric authentication.”
A corporation would incur additional costs beyond simply switching to biometric authentication, and 47% of respondents indicated that their current systems would need to be upgraded to accommodate the switch to biometric authentication on their devices.
When considering biometrics authentication advantages and disadvantages, it’s crucial to acknowledge that biometric databases can still be vulnerable to hacking, jeopardizing sensitive biometric data.
While biometrics mitigate many security risks, cybercriminals have discovered methods to circumvent biometric authentication systems and breach the databases where biometric data is stored.
Corporations and governments that collect and store users’ personal data face a constant threat from hackers. The uniqueness and irreplaceability of biometric data demand organizations to handle it with heightened security and caution – a task that is costly and technically challenging to stay ahead of evolving fraudulent tactics.
Unlike traditional methods where a compromised password or PIN can be changed, the same cannot be said for an individual’s physiological or behavioral biometrics.
Biometric devices, such as facial recognition systems, can raise privacy concerns by enabling user tracking. Thereby limiting user privacy.
A user bears the danger of leaving a permanent digital trace that malicious actors could track when biometrics are transformed into data and kept, especially in locations or nations with extensive surveillance measures.
Organizations and governments have frequently employed face recognition technologies to follow and identify individuals with unsettling accuracy, severely impairing privacy.
With increased surveillance, biometric information has the potential to turn into a permanent digital tag that may be used to track someone without them knowing.
When you talk about biometric authentication advantages and disadvantages, one major drawback is that it is difficult for providers to minimize demographic bias in biometrics while still authenticating applicants’ identities during digital onboarding.
Inadequate use of technology or intentional abuse can lead to exclusion and prejudice. Cross-demographic performance can be unpredictable and restrict customer access to necessities like finance and the growing array of digital services without a tested document-centric identity-proofing solution.
False Positives and Inaccuracy
Biometric systems may sometimes incorrectly identify individuals, leading to false positives. For example, a fingerprint scanner may not recognize a person’s fingerprint if it’s dirty or smudged. This can result in frustration and inconvenience for users.
There is a need for standardized practices and regulations governing the use of biometric data to ensure its ethical and secure use. The need for standardization arises from the complex and sensitive nature of biometric data.
Biometric information, like fingerprints, iris scans, and facial recognition, is highly personal and irreplaceable. Unlike passwords or PINs, which can be easily reset, compromised biometric data cannot be changed.
Absence of Remote Access
One major drawback of the system is that HR experts cannot access it “remotely” in an emergency, such as a security incident, to attempt to remove sensitive data.
Only entered attributes are recognized by the authentication system; if a user’s physical trait is altered, it will not be able to identify them. It can be inconvenient in these cases to have to modify the authentication technique to allow authorized user access.
Biometric authentication is a powerful and effective way to secure digital devices and data. It is more convenient and offers a higher level of security than conventional authentication techniques.
However, there are also drawbacks, like high expenses, false positives, and privacy issues. Therefore, it’s essential to carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of biometric authentication before implementing it in any system or application.