What is Biometrics?
Modern access control is based on three types of factors — something you have, something you know and something you are. Something you have might include an access card or key. Something you know would be a password or PIN. The last factor is one that some people consider to be the most secure — something you are, meaning something that is a physical part of you. Authentication using this type of factor is referred to as biometrics.
Biometrics Authentication Methods
While there are many types of biometrics for authentication, the five most common types of biometric identifiers are: fingerprints, facial, voice, iris, and palm or finger vein patterns.
Think of this element as the digital world’s version of handwriting analysis. It’s not to be confused with keylogging, which is taking note of what a person is actually typing. Keystroke recognition is a method of recording a person’s individual typing pattern, including the pace at which a person types particular letters or words, in order to isolate and identify the person doing the typing.
Although a system that tracks the way a person walks may not be feasible in every situation, it can be an accurate identifier of an individual.
Physiological biometrics are much more common because there are so many unique physiological factors that are relatively easy to track. This category of biometric analyzes physical measurements of the human body, such as the face, fingerprints, hand geometry, retina, iris, and more. Physiological biometrics can include:
– Vein recognition
–DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) matching
–Finger geometry (the size and position of fingers)
It’s well-known that every person has unique fingerprints. Fingerprints have been used to identify people since long before the digital age, so it’s a logical choice for biometrics. Fingerprint identification is cheap, affordable and typically extremely accurate.
Vein patterns, as it happens, are also unique to individuals. Technology currently exists to examine finger or palm vein patterns. Vein identification is more secure than fingerprint identification because while it’s conceivable that fingerprints could be altered, it’s difficult to imagine how a vein pattern, being subdermal, could be altered in a useful way.
Retina Scanning and Iris Recognition
Another popular method of biometric identification is eye pattern recognition. The user simply looks into an eye reader, which may analyze either the iris pattern or the retinal structure in order to match it to an approved user profile.
A security measure that has been used for years in large-scale environments requiring tight security like casinos, facial recognition is another well-known option. Today, technology is so advanced that even many phones are able to map key points on a person’s face to match with that person’s identity.
Rather than an authentication and authorization system identifying the entire face, some may work by merely assessing the unique shape of one’s ear.
While collecting DNA from a user every time they want to gain access to a system may be considered a bit too invasive, there’s no denying the high effectiveness of DNA analysis in identifying individuals.
Some systems can identify a person by the unique shape of their hand or fingers.
Although such systems are currently rare, it’s possible to identify a person by their unique smell.
This method of authentication analyzes the sounds a person makes when they speak.
These analyses include static systems that simply compare the signature to an existing handwriting sample and dynamic systems that also track the movement of the person’s hand when it’s writing.
Advantages of Biometrics
There are many advantages to using biometrics as a form of identification for access, including that biometrics:
– Cannot be lost: You can always forget your key, access card or password, but you can’t forget your fingerprints or your eyes. If biometrics are the only means of authentication, a user can never be locked out if they’re entitled to access. If you use multi-factor identification, a biometric factor is one less thing that users need to remember.
– Cannot be transferred or stolen: It is easy and not uncommon for people to leave access cards or notepads containing passwords lying around where unwanted personnel could get hands on them. You cannot lose your biometrics due to carelessness, and they cannot be transferred or stolen without causing physical trauma to the user.
– Are person-specific: Unless a user is colluding with an unauthorized person, you can be confident that the person who is using biometrics to gain access is who they purport to be.
– Are intuitive: Most users should have little difficulty figuring out how to press their finger onto a fingerprint scanner or look into an eye scanner. This process can be much faster and more convenient than hunting around for another password or trying to find the right way to insert an access card.
Your company’s management will have to decide which biometric factors are most appropriate for your business. Some may prefer behavioral biometrics because you can often use existing hardware to collect the information with just the installation of new software to analyze the data. Some may prefer fingerprint identification because it’s more recognizable and user-friendly than certain other methods.
While you can use multiple biometrics for identification, in most cases currently, a single biometric when paired with some other authentication factor — like a key card, push notification or password — is sufficient for secure access. While some companies with special security issues may require further measures, it’s often not cost-effective for a standard company to use more than one biometric authentication factor.