Updated January 2022
Biometrics companies must continually devise new ways to ensure security and leverage multi-factor means of authenticating someone’s identity. The future of this industry in 2022 and beyond may depend on how technology providers adapt to sudden changes.
The implications for biometric security become increasingly more apparent every year as data becomes the new “gold” in a high-tech world. Whoever has more data has more wealth.
Biometric security may soon become even more critical to ever-more complex financial systems, personalized medicine, commercial applications, and national security.
Biometrics: The Essentials
Biometrics is the quantification of unique physiological and behavioral traits for identifying any person among the billions around the world.
The ancient Babylonians left evidence of biometric data use as early as 500 B.C., though the identification of criminals by unique physiological measurements began in 19th-century France. By the 1880s, anthropologist Sir Francis Galton discovered the inherent uniqueness of individual fingerprints.
Several years later, a local police chief in Argentina, Juan Vucetich, created the first method to record and store fingerprints. Not long after, the new technology found application in multiple homicide investigations, beginning the new era of forensic files.
Today, fingerprinting identification has emerged as one of the most popular biometric security methods, and experts can scan these fingerprints in just seconds.
What Is Biometric Security?
Corporations and governments of the world now use an array of biometric security methods to identify individuals for computer system access, criminal investigation, or surveillance purposes.
There are many different types of biometrics, including physical traits like handprints and behavioral measures, such as rhythm and gait, and other behavioral profiling, including voice and typical mannerisms.
The quantification of physiological and behavioral characteristics fits within the category of biometric identification, or biometric ID.
Types of Biometrics
Biometrics can be broken down into broad categories, with each method falling into one or more categories.
This category encompasses:
- Voice recognition
- Speech identification to allow or deny someone access.
Either the technology checks the voice against many voices already in the system. It identifies someone to assign their level of security, or it compares the voice presented with the one on file for that person and either allows or denies them access.
Visual biometrics compare what the camera or person making the verification sees with what is already on file. Examples of biometric security measuring physiological traits include:
- Facial recognition
- Measurements of irises
- Palm prints and palm veins
- Hand geometry
- Ear shape and characteristics
- Digital signature recognition and comparison
- Unique facial characteristics
This category examines how the person behaves and compares it to the template within the database, or a human investigator compares it and makes a match.
Traditionally, validators could recognize behaviors such as gait and physical movements, and then as technology grew, it expanded into how people typed, keystrokes, and interacted with software.
By comparing and contrasting unique chemicals in the body, chemical biometrics can determine whether a person was in the room and the owner of found DNA.
They can even sniff a person’s scent and compare it to a database to verify someone’s identity.
Some of these types of biometrics can overlap multiple categories, and one port requiring verification may require multiple biometrics to securely validate a person’s identity.
Why Is Biometric Security Important?
As technology improves, the level and complexity of fraud also increase. Cybercrime and traditional fraud are constantly improving to stay ahead. Security is continually tightening to avoid breaches to keep assets safe from fraud, whether that asset is information or money.
Replaces Single Sign-On Vulnerabilities
This need for better security is why banks, government, and law enforcement agencies have already switched to biometric security instead of traditional usernames and passwords.
Biometrics offer reliability and ease of use since the asset needed to validate their identity is always on there, unlike passwords which can be forgotten or written down and misused.
Helps Eliminate Imposters
Biometric security seeks to match and verify the individual rather than requesting information only the individual would know, eliminating the need to question further the person, which could be faked or impersonated.
The positive qualities of biometric security aren’t just for banks and law enforcement.
Works Across Industries
Airports also use biometrics to verify entry to the gates for passengers and staff, and airports such as San Francisco International airport (SFO) have started trialing biometrics to match a driver’s license to facial recognition scans.
Stadiums have also started using biometric security with fast pass lanes that utilize a palm print scanner that can be pre-registered and allow a person to enter the stadium faster than traditional checks.
Essentially, biometric security is essential because it helps fill in the cracks that traditional sign-on methods leave behind, such as the threat of forgotten or misplaced passwords, sharing credentials, and a decrease in data breaches.
What Is Biometric Verification?
Biometric verification is a security method that utilizes a person’s unique physical characteristics to verify their identity and allow them access to secure files, applications, and information.
Using biometrics as a verification method used to belong to high-level government organizations or fictionally in films, but today, biometrics are used daily by everyday people to unlock doors, verify places of employment, and log into financial institutions for day-to-day banking.
Every day, biometric verification is being used for more and more applications as the technology is further developed and refined, making it more cost-effective for smaller businesses.
Applications have already grown to the point where a system of biometric verification for every aspect of routine life could be foreseeable in the future.
- Reduces the need to carry physical ID
- Harder to spoof or fake credentials
- Quick verification anywhere in the world
- It can customize security with a combination of biometrics along with a password.
- Higher cost than traditional verification methods
- Inaccuracies can prevent users from accessing systems
- Collected data needed for biometrics may be a privacy issue
- Databases are vulnerable to hacks and loss of personal information
Secure Databases Today
Personal data storage is pretty much the same as when it was first developed in the 1970s. The question remains how to secure the data stored in modern databases and the cloud to protect secret and sensitive information.
No system connected to the Internet provides total security against intrusion. The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned leaders in 2020 and 2021 about “grave threats” posed by foreign governments gaining access to U.S. government and corporate computer systems worldwide.
So, security experts recommend using bimodal biometric security systems, which combine one or more biometrics to authenticate and identify the individual user. Today, a highly secure computer system might require a biometric ID as a secondary authentication after a username and passcode.
Biometric Applications in Daily Life
The use of biometric authentication seems to be slowly becoming a part of daily life for people worldwide.
Travel and Migration
As the supersonic jet makes a modern-day comeback, both hypersonic and traditional passenger air travel will increase as the pandemic wanes. The coming changes in a global economy, technology, and climate also presage increased travel, tourism, and migration by the world’s rich and poor alike.
Thus, biometric authentication will become more critical to governments worldwide tracking tourists and migrants and surveilling these populations for terrorists, criminals, and other “threat actors.”
The good news for those who love to travel is that biometrics may significantly speed passenger boarding at airports and train stations.
Finance and Money
According to market research, most Americans are aware of biometrics and eager to transition to this new authentication methodology.
One of the reasons for this is the convenience factor, which is available without sacrificing security.
Biometric verification offers a compromise of being able to prove a customer’s identity quickly without needing to remember passwords to ensure the authorized parties only access financial information.
It’s now increasingly common in the United States and other developed countries for people to use voice-based personal assistants, either by mobile application or dedicated devices such as the Echo Dot.
However, linking our lives and everything in them to the internet poses a new security challenge. The further use of personal digital assistants at home and elsewhere will likely require biometric ID as secondary or primary authentication.
Physical Access to Buildings
Whether your work at the Pentagon or the local meatpacking plant, Americans have become increasingly accustomed to the idea of biometrics to gain access to a building.
Digital fingerprinting technology is already commonly used to gain access to offices and work sites. In the past, ID badges might require a secondary authentication factor, such as a phone call or a database check. However, the security process is often much easier and more secure with digital fingerprinting.
Likewise, school security in America and other developed countries have begun using biometrics to secure school buildings.
The Time Clock
The way employers track workers will also inevitably change with biometrics.
The American Payroll Association says the average American worker “steals” about 4.5 hours per week. That’s the equivalent of a paid six-week vacation over a year. Large companies say they’re considering biometric time clocks to reduce employee paycheck theft.
Yet, that works both ways. Some economists say that employers — giant corporations — steal about $15 billion from American workers every year. That’s called “wage theft,” says the Center for Public Integrity.
When the economy hits low points like a pandemic or recession, these companies often target the lowest-paid among us.
Perhaps biometric time clocks would work to solve both problems.
Law Enforcement and National Security
The Central Intelligence Agency says spycraft has gotten tremendously harder given the development of biometric technology. It’s so much easier for governments to identify and surveil foreigners, and no longer does a fake moustache fool sophisticated digital security systems.
Yet those advancements also made it much harder to keep collecting intelligence on the ground and to develop local sources.
On the law enforcement side, biometric technology has dramatically helped cross-border law enforcement operations with agencies such as Interpol. For nearly 30 years, police agencies internationally have worked effectively to share biometric data on criminals, including fingerprinting.
American police agencies hold facial recognition data on 117 million Americans, whether you’re a fan or a skeptic. Most commonly, police agencies record and store digital fingerprints, iris and face scans, gait, and even voiceprints. Many agencies also keep DNA records on file.
In the past, this might not have added up to much. But increasingly, police agencies can leverage more powerful national databases to share information.
Biometric Privacy Best Practices
Before implementing biometric technology, there are a few considerations regarding its use and employee privacy. The future of biometrics is beginning to lean towards a more in-depth examination of privacy policies and questions of ethics from big businesses.
- A general notice explaining when the company will use biometric technology
- Allowing for an opt-in or opt-out program
- Allow for employees to correct data and withdraw data when necessary
- Encryption of data in case of a breach
- Details that can be easily accessed by employees or customers regarding how long the company will keep the data and if it will need to be renewed
Businesses can keep this information with a privacy officer within the company.
The Next Decade
The next decade or so will bring some fantastic advancements in the field of biometrics, the journals say.
China and the United States have been working together to find new growth in the areas of biometric technology.
This partnership is not without its complications, and some journalists have stepped forward to ask whether there are ethical grounds to refuse assistance. This Chinese technology allows for creating facial templates from DNA without first taking a photo of the subject.
This is still only a theory in the works; however, the technology is in its early stages like many aspects of biometrics and would be required to sit before an ethics committee in the United States.
Improvements for Voice and Facial Recognition
Biometrics is still, for the most part, in its early stages, and it’s a costly technology to fund and grow. Even fingerprinting, one of the earliest forms of biometrics can be thrown off from something as simple as sweating from the person attempting to use their finger or palm print to verify their identity.
Using just voice recognition can also be an issue if there’s background noise or the person has an accent that the database is unable to ascertain.
Researchers at Cornell University say that far more accurate biometrics and multi-layered biometric authentication processes are the future. They combine voice recognition, and passwords or questions may be necessary until then.
The market for biometric technology will grow markedly in 2022 and beyond, says a survey by Research Drive.
In the 2020s, biometric technology has increased faster than many thought possible, although most usage is still fingerprint verification for mobile apps and operating systems.
To see the increase, up until 2019, mobile phone users had downloaded nearly 800 million applications requiring fingerprinting authentication, says Juniper Research.
Then, by 2020, more than 2.5 billion users had downloaded such applications to 4.8 billion biometric cellphones and other mobile devices, Acuity Market Intelligence said in a press release. Researchers forecast that biometric authentication will be one of the main ways people authenticate their identity on mobile devices.
Yet the most significant leap forward for biometric ID in the future may be incorporating blockchain technology. Some researchers predict that biometrics and blockchain will merge by 2030, forming a single digital ID token for people.
The growth of identity theft and other cybercrimes will push technology providers to develop biometric cyber defenses, reports rost & Sullivan. As hackers continue to grow in sophistication, multi-modal biometric identity systems may become the primary way to provide cyber security.
The public may embrace some developments in biometrics wholeheartedly while others meet skepticism.
Data is worth money, and hackers will do whatever they can to obtain it. Multi-layered encryption and state-of-the-art preventative technology are only as good as the people using it.
Biometric security in the right package can help ensure that only specific people have access to information and data according to the companies policies without remembering as many passwords or relying on single sign-on schemes that can leave room for data breaches.
That’s not to say that biometric security and technology are perfect or even fully developed. Still, the future holds a bright future for further additions to this technology and further refining until they know what it can offer industries.
The key is balancing this technology and the information it gives about the user with the need everyone has for privacy. The more a database knows about someone, the easier it is to identify them, but is there a cost to pay for that ease of use?
That is something that future users must decide for themselves.