Authentication methods are used to identify the real user/owner of the information and prevent unwanted access to sensitive information by tying them with various methods. While many authentication techniques have been used in the technological world for a long time, the improvement of accuracy and speed of such authentications have always been a big concern for us. In this article, we’re going to discuss what is biometric authentication, and dive a bit deeper to find out the types and functionalities it provides.
Biometrics | An Overview
The term “biometrics” is commonly used to refer calculations and measurements based on body functions, generally of a human. Conventional authentications like IP camera, ReCaptcha, password, etc. are more widely used in the last generation. In biometric systems, the inputs are mainly distinguishable characteristics of a particular human being. The process of storing this characteristic information for the first time in a biometric system is called Enrollment and is a common process for all biometrics.
Biometric Identifiers are known as the characteristics distinct for each and every human being and can be measured through sensors. We can differentiate these identifiers into 2 key types:
- Behavioral identifiers
- Physiological identifiers
Behavioral identifiers are the characteristics of a human-related to his/her behavior patterns or traits. These identifiers must be very difficult for other persons to copy. Such identifiers include the pattern of walking (or, gait), voice details (peaks and bases as a range), the rhythm of doing specific tasks, etc. and often involve AI to track them perfectly. While these are hard to copy, still sometimes it can be done. So, as a whole, behavioral identifiers aren’t the perfect form of authentication and are generally used as secondary verification systems.
Physiological identifiers are associated directly with the functions of the human body. In normal security systems like smartphones, these are implemented. There are many physiological identifiers completely distinct for each human. For example, DNA, fingerprints, iris details, vein identifiers, retina, etc. They can’t be faked in general, and are used mainly in primary security checking.
What is Biometric Authentication
Biometric authentication is a special type of authentication where the system verifies the right users/owners by checking their biometric data. Its a more sophisticated security system. These biometric data can be captured through various sensors. During the enrollment phase, the device captures these data for the first time and stores them in the memory or, server, by converting them to digital signals.
As a relatively new type of authentication system, biometric authentication has quickly become popular and is used widely across devices and systems for their accuracy and speed. In addition to the verification or authentication of individuals, biometric systems are also widely used to identify unknown persons quickly.
Types of Biometric Authentication
There are many types and methods of using biometric authentication. In general, we can categorize these into 3 main types:
- Unimodal Biometric Authentication
- Multimodal Biometric Authentication
- Adaptive Biometric Authentication
Unimodal is the simplest form of biometrics, where only one biometric identifier is used to determine the correct person. For this, only one sensor is typically enough. This is the least secure method amongst the others. Unimodal systems are used in personal devices like smartphones, laptops with sensors, smart home appliances, and alarms, etc. Although it’s the simplest, still these are typically enough to hold their own.
The main problem of it is the sensor reliability. As unimodal systems rely on one sensor only, damage to the sensor can make it unusable and permanently lock down the device. For example, fingerprint sensors or iris scanner sensors can become obsolete if damaged, and afterward, we have to rely on conventional methods like passwords or pins.
Multimodal authentication implements multiple layers of biometric authentications in the system to make it even more secure. It uses multiple biometric scanners to get multiple data from the person interacting, and thus the reliability is higher. These systems are used in money vaults, precious objects safekeeping, museums, and many more. While multimodal systems can work even one of their sensors are damaged, it doesn’t auto-update over time, and identifiers that change with the aging process aren’t updated here. So, after a certain period, new enrollment is done to update them manually.
Adaptive biometrics are superior among all because these systems auto-update themselves with the time, by collecting variation changes throughout the usage. In non-networked devices, the update relies on its firmware, and when in a network, the main server. These systems adapt to overcome aging symptoms. An adaptive facial recognition will work with the aging process and look changing. These are the most secure and advanced biometric systems, but may not be the biggest.
Different Types of Identifiers in Biometric Authentication
All the biometric systems rely on various identifiers or characteristics of a human being. The unimodal, multimodal, and adaptive systems all use these same identifiers in different methods to achieve their goals. There can be many identifiers in use, such as:
- Fingerprint authentication (or, finger scanning), one of the most widely used types of biometrics where the device recognizes the fingerprint of the user, and fingerprints are unique for each and every human being. This is one of the fastest biometric methods, and also very safe provided that the sensor is ok.
- Facial recognition uses sensors to generate a 3D topographical map of the face and looks at the details and patterns of the face. These are often seen in smartphones “Face IDs”. They are often slower than fingerprint, and in many systems, poorly designed and less secure.
- Voice recognition works by identifying the distinct characteristics of one’s voice, its harmony, and peaks, along with other details for a certain catchphrase to unlock them. Without knowing the catchphrases and without matching the voice details, this system will not unlock itself.
- Iris recognition is another very secure yet quick way to check. Here, the system scans the iris of a user and captures the patterns. These iris patterns are unique, and so they can be used in a biometric system. It is stronger than facial recognition as it can’t be faked.
- Electronic signals of a human body can also provide details of it. ECG (electrocardiogram) and EEG (electroencephalogram) can be used to scan the heart and brain’s electrical activity.
Along with these common identifiers, there is a wide range of these are used for different purposes.
Drawbacks of Biometric Authentication
Aside from the whole advantages it brings, there are some minor problems with biometric authentication. First off, there must be a backup strategy for when the sensors fail or get damaged. Sensors are delicate, and relying on them solely can be a bad idea. So essentially, we may have to switch back to the old authentication techniques if situations arise.
Secondly, the issue with biometrics is, unlike passwords, we have to involve part of us to the sensors. This can be harmful in threat or assault attempts, where criminals who want access in the information, may decide to bodily harm or injure the owner to get his access.
There are some human dignity issues rose with these systems. As many governments are switching to collect all the population data through biometrics, there are many people who don’t want to be associated themselves with machines in this manner, for issues like dignity.
With the government collecting data, another issue comes which is, international terrorism. These collected data can be sold to the highest bidder worldwide for a steep price, which will vulnerably expose the information of its population out in the public.
Although there are some drawbacks, biometric authentication really is the key to having a secure workspace yet being much more flexible and quicker than normal methods. And so, these systems are already being used in almost every personal device, along with sensitive spaces and virtual world. The process of perfecting this system is still underway, but we can expect to see them everywhere eventually.