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How reliable is biometric authentication?

We have talked a lot on our Market Leadership pages about biometrics – how it works, how secure it is and what the future of biometric authentication is going to look like, however, one thing we have yet to touch on, just how reliable is biometric authentication?

Before we tackle the reliability of biometric authentication, here is a quick recap in case you missed some of our earlier posts.

What is biometric authentication?

Biometric authentication is a security process that compares a person’s characteristics to a stored set of biometric data to grant access to buildings, applications, systems and more.

Unlike other security authentication measures such as passwords, keys and RFID badges, owners cannot lose biometric markers and they cannot be easily replicated or stolen by hackers. No security measure is completely safe from hackers, but biometrics offer a layer of security within a network that is very difficult for hackers to exploit and one that is often convenient for the end-user.

Today, the list of biometric authentication methods has grown and while some are still in their infancy, these biometric authentication methods are being explored as real-world solutions:

Is biometric authentication secure?

One of the most commonly asked questions surrounding biometric authentication is whether or not it is a secure method of authentication. It is one of the biggest barriers to the wider adoption of biometric authentication technology and much of the concern is misplaced.

While the storage of your biometric data is obviously important, there are many misconceptions about what a biometric actually “is” and what can be done with it.

Take facial recognition as an example:

  • When you create a facial recognition template from a face, whether this is in real-time, in person or using a photograph, the biometric is not the image or the photo and it is NOT the facial image or photo that is stored.
  • What is created (i.e. the “biometric”) is actually a proprietary, mathematical interpretation of the subject’s face and any original picture or video is discarded and is not stored. This mathematical interpretation is called the facial “template”. This facial template is proprietary to the facial recognition solution provider.
  • It is impossible to interpret or even read this template without the vendor’s secret, proprietary algorithm to decode it.
  • Lastly, even when the template is decoded using this secret algorithm, this does not and never can recreate the face used to create the template to begin with. Recreating the original face or photograph from the facial template is simply impossible. It is akin to recreating a complete person from a shoe print left in the dirt.

So, the fear that once a person’s biometric is compromised, that the hacker can recreate the person’s original face, fingerprint or whatever the biometric happens to be, is simply misplaced.

Without the vendor’s secret, proprietary algorithm to decode it, your biometric is useless to a hacker and is still secure. Far more secure than passwords and the like that are either stored in clear text or can be easily decrypted with brute force attacks. Neither of these is possible with a properly created biometric.

Biometric authentication is therefore one of the most secure ways possible to prove that a person is who they say they are.

Is biometric authentication reliable?

So, on to the main question and the reliability of biometric authentication: While detractors of biometric technology question the reliability, biometric authentication has already proven to be far more reliable than traditional authentication methods such as passwords.

Password verification accounts for more than 80 per cent of cyber breaches, according to a 2021 Verizon report. Biometric technology on the other hand boasts much better security performance and high accuracy levels.

Many biometric technologies are not new. Facial recognition and fingerprinting have been around for decades and during that time, technological advances mean that the accuracy of these biometric technologies has advanced. According to a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), fingerprinting has an accuracy of more than 99 per cent and NEC is a global leader in both facial recognition and fingerprint recognition testing carried out by NIST.

If biometric authentication is so reliable, why are more businesses not using it?

We’ve already talked about one of the biggest barriers to the adoption of biometric authentication technology being the misconception around the security of the technology, however, it would seem that the COVID-19 pandemic has now created an increasing demand for biometric authentication technology.

In a survey conducted by Spiceworks back in 2018, they found that 62 per cent of companies are already using biometric authentication, and another 24 per cent plan to deploy it within the next two years. If that timeline came to fruition, that means a lot of those companies that were planning to implement biometric authentication should now have rolled it out.

In another report, Ping Identity found that 92 per cent of enterprises rank biometric authentication as “effective” or “very effective” to secure identity data stored on-premises, and 86 per cent say it is effective for protecting data stored in a public cloud.

How the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the demand for biometric authentication

More and more businesses around the world are moving towards an authentication model that includes biometrics and this is expected to be expedited due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The need for contactless solutions has become more of a necessity than a nice-to-have feature across many industries. Retailers who previously resisted contactless payments have been forced to make the switch and biometric technologies such as facial recognition, which offers a fully contactless experience, are now being considered to solve several issues faced by businesses across a wide range of sectors.

As well as some of the biometric authentication technologies we have already mentioned, we can expect further advancements over the coming years. These are likely to include:

Pay by Face

Pay By Face technology has already started to roll out in certain parts of the world. However, we can expect this to be more widely implemented moving forward as retailers look to contactless solutions and an improved customer experience. Imagine a world where you can leave home without your phone or wallet and still have the ability to pay for things in a store? A world where you don’t have to punch in your pin code on a card swipe device already touched by hundreds of other people that same day. It’s a reality that is coming much sooner than we all imagined and will change the face of retail around the world.

Curb-to-gate contactless airports

One of the sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the travel sector. Whilst domestic travel has been possible in many countries, international travel has been severely limited over the past 18 months and in that time, airports have been looking at ways to improve the overall experience in the airport, minimising the contact points from arrival to departure.

NEC has developed a seamless travel solution that changes the way you engage at every stage of the airport experience – from checking in, dropping off your bags, customs check and when boarding your flight. In a recent case study, we looked at how NEC is working with leading airlines including the Star Alliance group, to provide solutions that will offer a fully contactless experience from the curb to the gate in airports around the world. Already rolled out by Delta in airports in the US, the need to consider contactless solutions has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and this could lead to a huge shift in the customer experience in airports all over the world.

The solution also integrates new technology that can carry out thermal screening to detect elevated body temperatures as well as utilising hygienic technology screens. You can read more about this in our recent case study – Uplift the air travel experience – a post-COVID flight plan

Staffless stores

NEC is excited to be working with 7-Eleven in Japan and Taiwan and Larson on a pilot of Facial Recognition for shopping after hours.

As an example, a 7-Eleven store could be closed from Midnight to 5 am – staff go home, and the doors are locked. Special customers, however, who have enrolled their face can open the door, shop, pay by face and leave the store. All completely unsupervised. All using Facial Recognition.

This trial began in early 2020 before the start of the pandemic, and we can expect this technology to be adopted by more businesses worldwide thanks to the acceleration of biometric technology and the demand for retail and purchasing experiences with fewer touchpoints.

Transit networks adopting contactless solutions

As well as airlines and airports, transit networks around the world are turning to contactless solutions to provide a safer travel environment for commuters on buses and trains. Public transportation is still seen as a high risk for many people due to COVID-19 and public transport operators know that they must overcome new challenges to retain and build confidence and increase ridership.

From mask compliance to disinfection efforts, public transit operators are turning to biometrics to improve the customer experience, creating a safer travel environment and experience.

Visa is also helping to tackle these new issues in cities around the world such as Brussels, Bratislava, Bucharest, Hong Kong and Turin via their open-loop, contactless payment option so that “riders can simply tap their contactless card or contactless-enabled mobile device at the terminal and ride.”

“Tap on and tap off by face” is just around the corner, should travellers choose to enrol for such a convenience.

Summary

Biometric authentication is here to stay and is quickly proving itself to be one of the most reliable and secure ways of authenticating that people are who they say they are. Fast and convenient for users, biometric authentication will soon become more integrated into our daily lives than it already is.

When international travel opens up once again, it is likely to be in very different circumstances to pre-pandemic with airports and airlines around the world turning to biometric technology in order to both cut down on touchpoints but also improve and speed up the overall customer experience in airports and hopefully reduce the congestion and queuing.

Some of the opportunities that are created by biometrics authentication create exciting possibilities and we are delighted to be one of the leading solutions providers in the world when it comes to biometric authentication.

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