Biometrics – up close and personal

17th May 2019 Reliance News

Although biometrics is often considered a modern technology, the origins actually go back many hundreds of years. A Persian book dating from the 14th century, Jaamehol-Tawarikh, includes information about the practice of identifying people from their fingerprints. Clearly the belief that every person is unique and can be identified by their particular physical or behavioural traits is nothing new.

Body talk

Even though biometrics has been something of a ‘slow burner’, developments have gathered pace in the last couple of decades and, as well as fingerprints, the term now includes face, voice, signature, DNA, iris pattern and even whole body recognition. These identifiers can also be used in combination to ensure greater accuracy of identification.

Most of us use biometrics on a day-to-day basis without giving it a second thought. Fingerprint recognition has seen widespread adoption within smartphone and tablet manufacturing, and some banks have introduced voice recognition and touch security services for customers.

As a way to digitally identify a person in order to grant them access to restricted facilities, systems, devices or data, biometrics is highly effective and can be used in virtually any application for which one might otherwise use keys, cards or passwords to control access.

Different strokes

At Reliance High-Tech we realise it is vitally important to differentiate between various types of authentication, and are fully aware of the client risk, objectives and needs. Put simply, a PIN or password is an authentication factor the user knows, while tokens, cards and fobs are things the user possesses. Biometrics, however, relate to who the user is and can measure face, finger whorls, voice and other physical attributes to let the access control equipment know that the authorised person requiring entrance is physically present.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that for high security applications within financial institutions, military establishments, critical national infrastructure, data centres and the pharmaceutical industry, biometric identification is more popular and often included as part of a two-factor authentication. It’s easy to understand why this is, but in the vast majority of applications does the use of biometrics solve a real problem that traditional card reader technology can’t? The answer is often ‘no’.

Compare and contrast

Specifying an access control system is usually based on an assessment of risk, cost and convenience. We will help demystify the decision-making process and help our customers and partners really understand their options and the best and most appropriate technology. For example, three advantages offered by card reader based systems are cost effectiveness, speed and reliability. However, a key risk is that ‘cards’ can be lost, stolen or potentially copied.

That said, and despite their impressive features, biometrics can also sometimes prove unreliable, if not configured to sample enough data points. For instance, false accept cases have come to light where siblings have been able to access each other’s smartphones through facial recognition systems. Similarly, fingerprint scanners can offer a false reject if an individual’s digit is wet, dirty or cut. Accuracy can be improved by using higher definition scanners but that in turn increases cost and potentially slows down the authentication.

In contrast, card-based systems pretty much read every time, irrespective of environmental factors, and are faster because the system doesn’t have to trawl through a database looking for a match.

With these factors in mind there are many considerations facing end-users when choosing the best technology and Reliance High-Tech will help and guide every step of the way.

Biometric technology also raises the issue of data protection. Organisations need to be very careful about how they utilise biometric authentication systems, so as not to compromise privacy or expose sensitive personal information. While it’s easy to issue a new password, PIN or card when the previous one has been compromised, you can’t give someone a new finger or eyeball. A real-life example of the concerns is San Francisco recently becoming the first US city to ban the use of facial recognition.

Moving on up

Biometric access control technology is becoming faster, more powerful, more reliable, widely accepted and cost effective. This trend will continue, and with smartphone technology also developing apace with its ability to, for example, utilise fingerprint or facial recognition for login, mobile credentials are proving to be another exciting area with great potential.

Coming full circle, we at Reliance High-Tech understand that access control should provide a balance between security and convenience. For the majority of commercial applications the measures of risk and cost mean that card reader based systems will continue to be effective for a while to come.

In the meantime, we continually assess innovative technological developments across the market so that we can offer you the best solution for your current and future needs. To learn more, call us on 0845 121 0802 or email