Biometric breakthroughs and privacy concerns

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We can already unlock our smart devices with our fingerprints and faces, and soon we will be using our ears. Has biometrics come of age at last?

Biometrics itself isn’t new, but innovation in the field is moving apace as security becomes the key to customer confidence.

Biometrics refers to metrics associated with human characteristics. Scanners pick up these characteristics to identify people using biometrics such as fingerprints, face, hand/palm, iris, voice and vein patterns. For example, facial recognition is now commonplace in automated epassport gates, which compare the live image of a traveler with their passport photograph.

The biometrics market is on a rapid growth path, accelerated by security concerns around terrorism and identity theft. It is already being used in government initiatives such as electoral administration, e-passports and e-visas, according to TechSci Research, which estimates the global market will surpass $24 billion by 2021.

Biometric systems are also being adopted for access control and time keeping purposes in the public and private sectors. This will grow over the next five years alongside military use, according to TechSci Research. Military units, for example, are adopting Iris ID’s iris recognition technology to verify troops’ identities on boarding military transportation, where reliable performance is critical.

Biometric advances

Smartphones today boast fingerprint sensors, iris scanners and facial recognition. But there are already other human characteristic authentication technologies waiting in the wings.

NEC, for example, is prototyping an ear authentication system. NEC’s wearable buds use “otoacoustic” authentication technology to recognize the characteristics of a user’s ear to enable hands-free authentication. This lets users safely and security activate devices without having to enter a password, for example.

The way we walk is almost impossible to replicate and could also be used to secure our devices. Researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), an Australian government agency, have overcome the problem of battery-hungry accelerometers, used to capture motion and velocity, which previously hobbled the uptake of gait recognition.

The CSIRO research team have developed a technique dubbed kinetic energy harvesting (KEH), which changes a person’s motion into electrical energy to improve battery life. They believe that this could open up the market for gait recognition in wearable devices.

Companies are increasingly partnering in the biometrics market to speed up innovation. Orange Cyberdefense, for example, has partnered with biometrics expert Morpho to work on mobile security solutions.

Biometric applications

Industries from banking and finance to transportation are looking at how they can utilize biometrics to make customers safer and their services more convenient.

Earlier this year, Precise Biometrics linked up with Elan MicroElectronics to launch a commercial payment card with fingerprint technology to premium customers at a South Korean bank. Mastercard has recently trialed a fingerprint biometrics card with supermarket retailer Pick n Pay and Absa Bank in South Africa for mobile payments and chip-and-PIN (EMV) terminals worldwide. Mastercard is expected to roll out the card later this year.

On the automotive front, car makers are looking to use biometric identity features to improve both comfort and safety. Gestigon, for example, is a software system that can interpret driver movements and draw actionable insights such as drowsiness. Analyst firm Frost and Sullivan forecasts that one in three new cars will incorporate biometric features from 2025.

The question of privacy

Biometric authentication usage applications are broad, touching many industries, so it comes as no surprise that the technology has given rise to privacy and security concerns around the potential theft and fraudulent use of this data.

Following Illinois and Texas, the state of Washington has become the latest US state to pass legislation regulating the commercial use of “biometric identifiers”, which are the characteristics unique to a person’s body or behavior. Other states are expected to follow suit in providing similar consumer protection legislation around the collection, use and storing of biometric data.

In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force May 2017, states that any data that may identify an individual will be classified as personal data. This includes biometric data. Other countries are watching closely as the biometric privacy issue unfolds.

Biometrics everywhere

As we all become more familiar with biometrics on our devices and expect our mobiles to identify who we are, advanced biometrics will become increasingly important at keeping the cybercriminals out.

Orange Cyberdefense is here to protect your most valuable data assets from increasingly complex and sophisticated cyber threats. Find out more here.

Jan Howells

Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.