Biometric Software Month Week 2: The Biometric Upgrade

Welcome to the second week of findBIOMETRICS Biometric Software Month in which we are taking a stronger focus on the strong authentication solutions that can be downloaded and installed in order to make life more secure and convenient.

As was mentioned in the primer that we published to start the month off, one of the best ways of illustrating  the diversity in biometric software solutions is by taking a look at the common smartphone. There are currently software development kits available to help developer create apps that support a wide range of biometric modalities. Voice, eyeprint, face and even fingerprint recognition can all be used to authenticate a user on a consumer grade mobile device without the addition of peripheral hardware.

The potential for biometrics already exists all around us: a possibility of security, convenience and big data just waiting to be ignited by software. This is the power of the biometric upgrade.

The Nature of Biometrics

Biometric software is a great place to start when we want to talk about the nature of biometrics. The common layman’s idea of the biometric solution – thanks to pop culture and the media – is that of a highly sophisticated sensor, usually glowing some futuristic colour that is the movie land shorthand for high tech miracles. The truth is, sensors, no matter how futuristic looking, are not the be all and end all of biometrics.

At the most basic level, biometric authentication rests on a simple philosophy: no two people are exactly alike. On a fundamental level, I know that just because a stranger tells me he has the same name and birthdate as my mother and an ID card to corroborate this statement, he is not necessarily my mother. This is the deep affinity humans have for biometrics.

Passwords, despite all our mind boggling and exhaustive efforts are not unique, and neither is the ownership of a key (or access card). If a key will open a door then anyone who has that key, whether they be authorized personnel or not, has access to what lies beyond it.

When you are being authenticated based on who you are, instead of what you have or what know, imposters have a much more difficult time faking their way into limited access areas.

All that a biometric solution needs is a means with which to measure your biological characteristics. The sound of your voice, the shape of your face or the vein patterns on the side of your eye: any way that these can be captured digitally is an opportunity for biometrics.

Sensors Are Everywhere

Given the above, any digital camera or microphone can be transformed into a biometric sensor with the right software. To be overly simple: a computer just needs to know how to accurately compare two high quality pieces of rich data.

Using the above example, with a man pretending to be my mom, let’s pretend this identity thief wanted to access her email account. He has her smartphone and her drivers license.

If my mother was like the average North American and didn’t follow the proper password protocol, her biographical information is likely enough to get past the security question required for a password reset.

It doesn’t have to be this easy for the criminal though. The smartphone from which he is accessing the banking app has two perfectly capable biometric sensors: a front facing camera and a microphone.

Biometric software can simply limit access to any important applications and accounts by turning either of these incredibly common smartphone features into a point of authentication. The thief might be able to find any biographical info he needs to reset my mom’s password, but I would bet that he couldn’t do a good enough impression of her voice to fool a biometric app like say, AGNITiO’s KIVOX.

The same goes for him trying to impersonate her vein patterns or facial features. All of this security is possible, and we all have the potential sensors in our pockets.

Applying the Upgrade

Smartphones are just one great example of where the potential for biometric authentication lies, but this discussion doesn’t end there. Webcams, security cameras and microphones have proliferated public and private spaces. In the same way that my mother could use EyeVerify to turn her phone into a biometric device in the hypothetical situation above, retailers can install software into their security cameras that can help them better know their customer demographics.

Even a home phone that uses a landline can interface with call centers that use biometric software to passively make sure they’re voice matches their claimed identity.

The potential for biometric living has been growing for a very long time, and now that software has become accurate and accessible enough, that potential can be realized. After all, it’s human nature to only trust a face (or voice or eyeprint or any measurable characteristic) that you know.

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Have other ideas of where biometric software can be applied to make life more trustworthy and convenient? Let us know by following findBIOMETRICS on Twitter and tweeting with the hashtag #fBSoftwareMonth.

May 14, 2014 – by Peter B. Counter