Biometric Authentication and Protecting Sensitive Information

Welcome to the first post in our series on when fingerprints are best. In this post, Stan Swearingen, SVP of Strategy & Advanced Development at IDEX Biometrics, discusses Biometric Authentication and Protecting Sensitive Information.

For many years, the security of systems has relied on the use of user IDs and passwords. But increasing numbers of high-profile data breaches where passwords have been exposed have led to a move towards the use of biometric sensor systems to provide a higher level of security.

Authentication types

Biometrics come in a number of different forms. Fingerprints are perhaps the one that comes most readily to mind, but other alternatives such as face and voice recognition or retinal scans are also being used and are becoming increasingly common across many areas of our lives.

Whether it’s unlocking your smartphone, logging into systems at work or passing through security at an airport, you have almost certainly encountered some form of biometric security. Fingerprints are one of the most commonly used authentication factors. There are a number of reasons for this, firstly because fingerprints are unique to each individual, but also because although your voice and face may change over time, your fingerprint is less likely to change over time.

A biometric sensor to scan fingerprints is also accurate and unobtrusive. They are relatively compact too and so can be easily integrated into a range of different systems and devices, even on smart cards.

Unlike passwords, there’s no advantage to stealing biometric information from a hacked database, because even if you did, it’s hard to turn it into a usable form that would allow you to gain access to data or make financial transactions.

Authentication uses

Biometric authentication can be used in a wide variety of different situations. Access control is one of the most common; you can use your fingerprint to unlock your smartphone for example or to access secure environments via a touchscreen.

What is currently less common, but definitely an area to watch in future, is the use of fingerprints to authenticate payments. We have become used to entering a PIN or making unauthenticated contactless payments for small amounts. However, it’s now possible to design cards with a thin, biometric fingerprint sensor built into the card itself. This provides an additional layer of security, ensuring that the person making the payment is the authorized cardholder.

This is convenient for the consumer, but it’s good for the retailer too. Because there’s authentication, it becomes possible to make contactless payments above the current limit, safe in the knowledge that the transaction is protected.

All of us are becoming more aware of the value of our personal information and the need to keep it secure. Using biometric technology, it becomes possible to improve the protection of personal information and secure financial transactions, without making life more difficult for the consumer or the business.

Although still in its early stages, the use of fingerprint authentication is increasingly being trialed by organizations and we’re likely to see biometric payment cards with in-built fingerprint scanners being rolled out by banks in the coming years. Like chip and PIN before it, biometric authentication will no doubt become accepted as the norm.