Online banks plan face-recognition trials

Your face is set to replace a PIN number or password when accessing bank accounts online
Written by Andy McCue, Contributor
Internet banks in the UK and Europe are set to trial facial recognition technology in the New Year that will authenticate customers from their home PC instead of passwords or PIN numbers.

Participants in the trial will first 'enrol' their facial biometric, which will be stored either on the PC itself or on a smartcard. The customer can put their smartcard into a reader and this will verify their face using a Web cam on the PC.

The trials are being run by facial biometric firm OmniPerception, which said there will be "major" trials early next year with Internet banks in the UK, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany.

Martin Gates, marketing director at OmniPerception told silicon.com: "A number of banks in Europe are evaluating the technology."

He said the software generates a unique facial biometric and that it can detect attempts to fool the process by using video footage of a person or a model of a face.

"The number of permutations peoples' faces could have is mind-bogglingly large," he said. "There is plenty of scope for uniquely identifying each individual."

Gates would not reveal the names of the banks involved in the trials, but said his company is working with Sharp on a secure smartcard that will store the facial biometric.

While facial recognition technology is undoubtedly far more secure than passwords or PIN numbers -- which have come under scrutiny in recent weeks following security scares at several ecommerce sites -- it remains to be seen whether the banks will be able to justify the high cost of implementing such security.

Graham Titterington, senior analyst at Ovum, said one of the main issues will be resistance from customers.

"A lot of people don't have Web cams, and I would guess that the software requirement is significant and probably not run too well on older PCs," he said. "It is the sort of thing that in five years time may work, and it's not radically different from using a fingerprint reader."

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