2015 has seen biometrics in the public eye as never before. More and more devices and platforms have adopted the technology across multiple sectors, from airlines to financial services providers.
Biometrics isn’t a new concept. It has been around in a formalised way since the late 19th century when police forces began to use fingerprint identification to track and arrest criminals. The more recent leap forward in biometrics has been due to the ready availability of technology needed for automatic biometric recognition. The penetration of smartphones and tablets for both business and personal use is accelerating the push into everyday life.
Anyone who has recently visited the United States, for example, will have given their fingerprints when passing through Immigration. And, if when in the US, they visited Walt Disney World in Florida, they will have used fingerprint recognition technology to enter the park.
The most up to date iPhone owners will be used to employing their fingerprint to unlock their phone and make purchases from the app store and iTunes. With the launch of Apple Pay, increasing numbers of iPhone users will employ their fingers to identify themselves while making brick & mortar purchases too.
Car manufacturers such as Ford and Volkswagen are also adopting biometrics for car owners. It is estimated that around two million cars in the UK now have some sort of biometric system ranging from fingerprint ignition to voice control Bluetooth entertainment systems.
Biometrics has a critical role in healthcare too with the UK Blood Transfusion Service piloting biometric recognition to correctly identify and label blood donations. And the list goes on.
These everyday uses of body characteristics for authentication have helped swing public opinion towards acceptance and trust, paving the ground for further developments across other industries. Payments, where the fundamental aim is to make both in-store or online transactions frictionless and secure, has been fertile ground for biometric technology to grow and develop.
In terms of transaction authentication and security standards, the use of biometrics technology marks a real shift in thinking. It is part of a wider trend towards more sophisticated financial security, whether that is encryption, tokenisation, or cloud based security. Certainly in Europe, security conscious firms and consumers are realising the importance of robust security standards that rely on evaluation and certification criteria.
The use of biometrics for speedy user authentication has potential in a number of scenarios and is at the heart of the Apple Pay proposition. The expected success of Apple Pay will surely see biometric authentication become an integral part of modern security.
Despite this, biometric technology is by no means flawless. No single security measure is. Fraudsters and criminals can easily copy fingerprints and it is possible to hack any mobile-based biometrics technology including voice-recognition.
If biometrics has a role to play in payments and authentication, and it surely does, then it must be as a component in a larger, comprehensive and layered suite of security measures. Legislation (like the upcoming PSD2) is now mandating 2-factor authentication for financial transactions. With biometric increasingly looking likely to be one factor that should be combined for a truly effective solution?
Incorporating a four digit PIN into the security mix for a deeper layer of confidence, for example, is entirely familiar to consumers and will add minimal time to any transaction. Alongside other authentication factors such as biometrics, and mobile device registration, this combination of authentication factors will bring a versatile and provide a significantly more effective barrier to ID crime and card fraud.