Bringing Biometric Security to the Fore

John Davies

John Davies

Any biometrics naysayers may be interested to hear that banking giant HSBC is about to roll out voice and fingerprint biometric authentication for use by some 15 million customers. This follows a similar move last year by RBS and NatWest for their own online banking operations. When a major retail bank is happy to guard the finances of so many of its customers using biometrics, it’s a clear sign this technology has reached an important milestone in terms of public perception, writes John Davies.

However, since their early inception there have been degrees of resistance to biometric systems – some of them justified during the earlier stages, admittedly – while there’s still unfounded resistance in some quarters to the use of the technology today. When you consider the alternatives such as password/PIN codes and their limitations, it’s hard to see a cohesive argument against biometrics, but it’s fair to state that technology adoption is as much about winning over hearts and minds as it is about promoting the technical details.

Arguably, Apple’s decision to include a fingerprint reader on its recent iPhones has been a key part of the process as far as the banks are concerned. If end users already have biometrics in their favourite devices, it’s much easier to convince them to use it for financial transactions as it is for unlocking their mobile phone screen.

Within the security business sector, biometrics have long been seen as a highly usable and reliable authentication technology, but despite this, their use has been somewhat niche among the practising end user fraternity. Fingerprint authentication is a key ingredient in many readers, even if accompanied by PIN and card alternatives, but from a biometrics point of view it’s only really the tip of the iceberg.

Wide choice for different applications

With the banks opening up an interest in biometrics, there’s likely to be more scrutiny in the choice of technologies available. Naturally, different options suit different applications. Indeed, it’s important for the market to understand that biometrics is a broad term for a whole raft of options.

Facial recognition, for instance, offers huge potential for security authentication. A modern system affords top notch reliability – with a typical False Acceptance Rate of less than 0.0001% – in tandem with rapid authentication and is totally touch-free, which is perfect for reducing the likelihood of damage and contamination. What could be more perfect in a hospital or a laboratory, for example?

Iris scanning is another application that could work well in the banking sector through the use of smart devices with high resolution cameras. That said, there may be certain limitations, such as people wearing certain types of spectacles or contact lenses.

Biometrics in general security

The main drawback for biometrics when it comes to banking is the fact that customers often prefer to conduct their business remotely. On that basis, any solution is limited by the online access device being used. However, there is of course a much wider range of potential biometrics systems for use in locational security.

Hand Geometry takes fingerprint reading a step further and uses the unique dimensions of a user’s hand, ascertaining the size of the fingers, thumb and palm for authentication. Some technologies, such as Sub-Dermal Recognition and Vein Recognition, go one step further by focusing on the unique patterns within the body.

Walking Gate Analysis Biometrics technology is another solution that provides effective security in the real world. Although its unobtrusive, it does require the space for the user to be able to walk within the authentication zone and is therefore better suited to open environments or large interior spaces, but is highly effective in large public areas such as airports of sports venues, for example.

High security areas

Impressive levels of reliability make biometrics perfect for high security applications, as the major banks are now demonstrating. In some high security applications, of course, convenience is not the overriding factor, so there’s scope to introduce the right tools for the job.

A good example of this is Heart Recognition biometrics technology, which is based upon the unique results of an individual’s ECG reading. It may not be practical for a lot of applications, but could be perfect for high security environments.

There are also different options for readers, from finger scanners to contactless chest-mounted straps with wireless connectivity to access control systems. Heart Recognition offers a highly secure, reliable and user-friendly solution that’s convenient even in harsh or remote environments. It’s also ideal for military deployment.

Biometrics provide excellent benefits when used in isolation, but of course there’s also the scope to use them in collaboration with other identity authentication solutions such as passwords of PIN codes. The phrase that’s often used is: ‘Something you know and something you are’ – a combination of elements that provide truly breathtaking levels of security.

Balancing convenience and security

The introduction of biometric systems by the banks could have been seen as a headline-grabbing exercise, but there appears to have been real consideration of the benefits for customers and the organisations themselves.

Like many businesses, banks face an on-demand culture in which customers want rapid but secure access to services and their money. The key to this will always be recognising identity on a reliable footing. Biometrics does this quickly and with a minimum of fuss. The problem with passwords and tokens has always been the inconvenience of having to remember details or carry specific hardware around to prove identity. Even five years ago this was an expectation for many of us, but times change and customers want convenience as well as security.

The move towards biometric-focused solutions by the banks has highlighted their customer’s demands, but they are much the same across all the security sectors. There’s little tolerance for inconvenience and, as security consumers as well as providers, I’m absolutely sure we can all sympathise with that.

Biometrics provide a solution that ticks all the boxes and, when a security conscious organisation lends its weight to the technology, it sends a clear signal to all potential adopters.

This is something the security business sector should laud when it helps us all to progress and evolve in the way we do business and protect our customers even more effectively.

John Davies is Managing Director of TDSi

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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