Biometric authentication is the recognition of individuals by their unique physical characteristics and is most commonly used for security purposes. This can be done by scanning someone’s fingerprints, face, eyes, or even the veins inside of their hands.
Whether we like it or not, biometrics has become an intrinsic part of our daily lives – our phones recognise our fingerprints and/or face every time we decide to unlock them. There are many different types of biometric authentication that can be used for increasing security where it is needed. But which one is the most secure? Read on to find out!
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Everyone has unique fingerprints – no two people have been found to have the same fingerprints so far, even though this type of biometric reading has existed for more than 100 years. It was first used in law enforcement to accurately pinpoint a certain crime’s perpetrator. But nowadays, it is widely used in many different areas, most commonly in smartphones.
This method is easy and cheap to implement, be it for unlocking a phone or opening a door, while also being fairly reliable. Some fingerprint scanning technologies can easily be spoofed, while others require more effort to trick. On the more macabre side of things, a criminal can even use another person’s severed finger to pass fingerprint biometrics. Yikes!
So although fingerprint recognition is a staple in the world of biometrics and works for most people’s needs, it is by no means the best biometric reading out there.
Many technologies nowadays utilise voice commands to operate — Hey, Siri! — and it works great instead of having to type in every command you want a device to execute. But your voice can also be used as a biometric signature for security purposes.
Believe it or not, a person’s voice is practically as unique as their fingerprint! Voice recognition software extracts the exact traits that differentiate your voice from everyone else’s. This system is easy to use and is contactless, which means that it can be used without needing actually to touch a sensor.
On the flip side, this type of biometry also depends on how well-made the whole system is. If it doesn’t record high-quality audio, someone could play a recording of your voice or even try to imitate you and pass the test. So, in the end, this type of biometric reading often doesn’t provide adequate security.
Facial recognition is getting more and more traction these days – from unlocking your phone to spotting a wanted criminal on the footage of a security camera. Modern facial recognition software scans your face in detail, allowing for an extremely accurate 3D image of your face to be created.
From our personal experiences with smartphones, we know that face recognition works pretty well… most of the time. Sometimes putting on glasses or even having a grumpy expression might cause the scan to fail, leaving you locked out. But technology is constantly improving, and breakthroughs in AI could lead to increased facial recognition capabilities in the near future. For the time being, though, facial recognition remains one step behind other biometric security measures.
Another unique part of your body is your eyes! Not even identical twins have the exact same eyes. And to top it off, there are two different parts of your eyeballs that can be used for a biometric reading.
We all notice how everyone’s irises are a different colour, but did you know that the structure of the iris is entirely unique to every individual? The plethora of beautiful shapes and lines of your iris can be used as an ‘eyeprint’ by the scanner in the form of an image.
The inside of your eye, called the retina, is no less unique. The retina houses many tiny blood vessels, and the idiosyncratic shape of this sprawling complex of tiny veins are scanned using an imperceptible infrared light.
Your eyes aren’t very prone to change, save for a few different medical conditions or physical injuries, so this method is relatively reliable. Retina scanning is more foolproof than the iris scan, as someone could use a picture of your eye to fool the instrument. The retina scan is nigh impossible to spoof, so it ranks highly on the biometric security ladder.
Continuing on the vein train, another biometric reading that is becoming increasingly popular is the finger/hand vein scanner. Like those inside your retina, all the other veins in your body also form in a way that is entirely unique to you. And the easiest parts of your body to scan are your hands and fingers.
The process is fairly similar to how retina readings work. The scanner illuminates your hand or finger with infrared light. The veins absorb more of the light and come out as darker parts of the picture. This picture is then used as a reference each time you run your hand or finger through the instrument.
This biometry method is one of the most secure and easy to use out there. The veins are inside your hand, which makes them less likely to change over time. It cannot be spoofed using pictures or fake prints. Only an elaborate 3D model of your hand could possibly be used to fool such a scanner, but that is highly unlikely.
You might not have the most beautiful or unique signature out there, but the exact way you write it and all the little specifics of its look can be used to determine who actually wrote it. And even though signature recognition falls under behaviour rather than physiology, it is still considered a type of biometry.
Signature recognition can be done with specialised software or by expert graphologists. If you write your signature on a computer, the software can quickly analyse how you write the signature and use those distinctive traits to differentiate who is writing the signature. A signature can easily be forged, but how your hand moves while you write it – not so much.
Passwords and PINs are not biometrics, but they are the most widespread security measure of them all and the least secure one, as well. The reason for their overwhelming use is simple – they’re the cheapest to implement.
PINs and passwords are easily forgotten and can be lost or stolen if written down and cracked in seconds by computer software. Even the strongest password out there is inferior to a simple biometric authentication system. So whenever possible, choose biometry over simple strings of characters.
And that covers the basics of biometric readings! Some are cheap and simple, others highly complex and expensive, but the level of security they can provide is unparalleled. Whether it’s best to use your fingerprints, face, voice, eyes, or veins depends on your exact needs, so it’s essential to consider the pros and cons of each method first.
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