Biometrics becoming more human to enhance security

With ongoing improvements to address various biological factors, biometrics will remain most secure way of recognizing and protecting users, says expert, who believes countries have much to catch up on this form of data protection.

SINGAPORE--Iris scanning and increasingly sophisticated fingerprint readers are driving new developments in the biometrics realm, enabling the technology to cater to varying biological conditions and therefore, provide better security.

According to John Kendall, director of national security development for Unisys Asia-Pacific, while iris scanning has yet to be widely adopted as the mainstream identification recognition technology, some countries have already implemented it as part of their national identification projects.

"India and Mexico are both using iris [scanning], with fingerprints as the secondary [identification technology]. That's a huge change from just two or three years ago," Kendall said in an interview Monday with ZDNet Asia. The executive is in town for this week's Global Security Asia 2011 conference and exhibition.

Kendall also pointed to the Bank of America, which has installed a facial recognition system that reads both the face and iris of the person requesting access. Unlike fingerprint readers, the system does not require the person to remain stationary while his details are being scanned. Instead, it is able to pick up facial and iris features as he approaches the entrance point. Once access is granted, the door will automatically open, he said.

He noted that facial recognition technology is already being used in residential communities in Japan and Korea, and added that biometrics is slowly integrating into people's daily lifestyle.

Sub-dermal fingerprint readers
Unlike traditional fingerprint scanners which can be easily "fooled" either by using replicated fingerprints or simply by "blowing and fogging the glass", new scanners are "sub-dermal" as they read patterns of blood vessels or tissue beneath the fingerprint, Kendall said.

"Some of the new readers use multiple wavelengths of lights to go into different depths of the human skin, others use radio frequency to excite it so even if your finger is very dirty or fingerprint 'worn', it still works very well," he said. This also takes into consideration, for example, employees who are heavily involved in manual labor and often have worn-out fingerprints that can be difficult to read.

With these new technological developments, it is now more difficult to hack the biometric system. Kendall added that the data will have to be extremely valuable for cybercriminals to invest the effort and time to develop a full anatomically-correct 3D model of a person's finger.

Other technology advancements have also allowed systems to read other parts of a person's hand, he said. The vascular recognition system implemented in the port of Halifax, for example, reads veins instead of fingerprints.

"Similarly, there are cameras that can capture your face and iris at the same time," Kendall said. "In old facial verification systems, you can hold up a picture of [an authorized person to gain access] and the system would recognize it, so with the added iris, there's a level of complexity that cannot be easily copied."

With more organizations heading toward the biometric way, countries will need to play "catch up" in this segment of data security, he explained.

Currently, most countries do not have security legislations regulating the protection of biometric data, he noted.

Increasing user acceptance
Like passwords, biometric data is considered "personal", and some people are still wary of providing their fingerprints as they see it as a form of privacy invasion.

Kendall said: "However, we're finding a lot of that is changing now. The trend over the last few years has shown a very large acceptance toward the use of biometric if people [understand that they] get to benefit from it, whether it is to increase their security or to enhance the convenience of transacting business."

He added that financial institutions could also obtain voice-prints from phone-banking customers to provide an additional layer of recognition.

With the cost of biometric technology going down, he said consumers can expect more devices to be installed with recognition capabilities.

Some laptops, PCs and portable USB storage devices have already implemented the fingerprint technology, he noted, adding that mobile devices can be the next logical form-factor to integrate facial or iris scan recognition.

"People now store personal information in their device so this has become the top target for scammers," Kendall said. "With most smartphones and tablets installed with cameras, it wouldn't be very difficult to create an app that would simply scan your iris before allowing you access."


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