LibraryblogCommon uses for biometrics (with examples)

Common uses for biometrics (with examples)

The way biometric verification works is simple. To work effectively, a business will build a database that stores authentic customer data. Then, a business can compare a user’s physical traits to the samples in the database in order to find a match.

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April 6, 2023
Blog Post

Biometrics is a way of measuring a person’s physical characteristics. By using a piece of biometric data such as a fingerprint or a facial scan, an individual’s identity can be verified accurately in as little as one second.

Today, our smartphones use biometric verification methods to verify a user’s identity and guard against unauthorized access. For example, rather than using a password or a passcode, a modern smartphone uses a face scan to verify the identity of the individual trying to gain access to their phone or their banking app. This is because this technique is now widely considered to be a more secure and convenient alternative to a password or a PIN.

That said, although biometrics are now used widely for authentication and verification purposes, vulnerabilities do still exist in biometric systems, and some people remain worried about security and privacy.

In this guide, we’ll answer common user questions about biometrics, such as ‘what are biometrics commonly used for?’ We’ll also outline exactly how the technology is used in the real world. We’ll then discuss some of the concerns people have about biometric security and how these issues can be overcome. We’ll conclude by looking at the future of the industry and discussing how our biometric authentication solution can help your business.

What are biometrics used for?

Before we answer common questions such as ‘what are biometrics commonly used for?’, let’s first briefly overview what biometric authentication is and the way biometric verification works.

In essence, the way biometric verification works is simple. To work effectively, a business will build a database that stores authentic customer data. Then, a business can compare a user’s physical traits to the samples in the database in order to find a match.

If you own an iPhone, then you’ll find that you’re using biometric verification methods on a daily (if not hourly) basis. This is because smartphones such as iPhones utilize three different forms of biometric identification:

  1. Facial recognition: when you attempt to unlock your iPhone, the device takes a scan of your face to make sure it’s you. This technique is also used when you attempt to make a purchase via Apple Pay.
  2. Fingerprint scanning: some iPhones also take scans of your fingerprints before you’re allowed to conduct certain actions. Although many iPhones now take face scans instead, some older models use fingerprint scans for locking and unlocking or authorizing payments
  3. Voice recognition: when you ask Siri a question, your iPhone uses voice recognition to verify that it’s you that’s making a specific command

Biometrics are widely considered to be at the cutting edge of technology and the benefits of biometrics are numerous. Not only do these authentication methods increase convenience for the customer, they also increase security.

So, now we know a little more about what biometrics are, how they’re used, and the benefits they provide. But, what are the most common use cases for biometric authentication?

Well, today biometric data is used by a wide variety of applications and many of us routinely use biometric authentication methods as part of our everyday lives. From e-passports at borders to signing into our work buildings and using smart home devices, we all use biometric identifiers such as face scans, fingerprint scans, and voice recognition technology regularly. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how these forms of biometrics are used in greater detail.

Voice recognition

Voice recognition is sometimes also referred to as voice biometrics. Voice recognition works because every individual’s voice is unique and distinguishable. This is because more than 70 different body parts contribute to how we speak.

In order for a voice recognition system to work, a user is asked to say a series of predetermined words or phrases. Each of these is then saved as a voice print and added to a database.

Once the customer has completed this task, they can attempt to access an account or service. Each time they do so, a new speech sample is captured and is compared against the original voice prints. If the speech templates match, a user is allowed to access the service.

As we mentioned, voice recognition systems are commonly used by smartphones. However, they’re also now widely used by smart home systems, such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa.

For example, the Google Assistant system that powers Google Home is compatible with a wide range of IoT (Internet of Things) devices, including light bulbs, door locks, security cameras, security lights, and more. When customers connect their Google Home device with any of these connectible devices, they’re asked to consider the importance of security. After all, you wouldn’t want anybody in the world to be able to control your security cameras. This is why users are usually asked to set up a voice recognition system. This way, the Google Assistant system can ensure it only ever responds to authorized users.

On top of this, voice recognition technology is also widely used by a number of businesses, such as call centers and financial service providers. This is because, as well as improving security, these systems also improve the user experience and save time for staff members, who no longer need to manually verify users or reset forgotten passwords.

Fingerprint scanning

Fingerprint recognition is one of the oldest forms of biometric identification. It has been in existence in some form since the 1800s. As a result, it’s also the most popular and most developed biometric authentication solution available. Today, fingerprint scanning systems are incredibly complex. The process now usually involves optical, capacitive, ultrasound, and thermal scanners. But, contactless fingerprint scanners are also available.

For fingerprint scanning to work, each user’s fingerprint must be scanned and analyzed. These scans are then saved as a template in the system. When this user then attempts to access a building, a room, or a service, the fingerprint they supply is then compared to all of the samples in the system in order to find a match.

Today, fingerprint scans are most commonly used for access control purposes. By placing fingerprint scanners on the outside of buildings (or areas in a shop that can only be accessed by staff), workplaces can be certain that only authorized members of staff can access certain zones. Plus, by asking staff to supply another scan before they leave, businesses can generate a live log of exactly who is in the building or a specific room at any given time.

Fingerprint scan access systems are particularly important for any business that handles sensitive data. This is because fingerprint scanners ensure that only certain members of staff can access this information. Should any information go missing, the business will also have a log that details who accessed the data and when. Such a system is far more secure than using locks and keys, which can be lost or stolen.

On top of this, in workplaces and school buildings, fingerprint scans are also commonly used to track attendance. This is because registers that use fingerprint scans rather than sign-in sheets are a lot more accurate and cannot be manipulated.

Facial recognition

Pieces of facial recognition software, such as our biometric authentication solution, measure the geometry of a user’s face. To do this, the software collects a number of different data points and measurements, such as the distance between the eyes, or the distance from a user’s chin to their forehead.

To gather this data, a piece of facial recognition software will either use live photos or videos. Once a user’s data has been gathered and analyzed, the information is stored and can be used for verification purposes. Next time a customer attempts to access their account, they need to provide another face scan. To do this, the user usually provides the system with a live selfie, which can then be analyzed and compared to all the stored faces and values in the database. If a match is found, a user can be granted access.

Many people now consider facial recognition to be one of the most advanced and accurate forms of biometric identification in the world. Generally speaking, it’s used for three key purposes:

  • Monitoring high-risk customers
  • Remote verification
  • Resetting credentials

Face recognition technology is most commonly used by smartphone users. However, it’s also commonly used at airport security. If a traveler has a biometric passport, facial recognition technology allows them to travel through a passport gate that will check their identity, rather than waiting in a long line for a member of staff to inspect their document and likeness manually. Now, many airlines are also trialing schemes where passengers can also use facial recognition technology to check in at the self-service kiosks, drop bags at the check-in counters, move through security checkpoints, and board a flight.

On top of this, facial recognition technology is also widely used by law enforcement agencies. Today, agencies such as the FBI and Interpol utilize facial recognition technology (and other forms of biometrics) to help solve crimes and identify missing persons. Facial recognition technology can be used to help law enforcement officials identify suspects in stills and videos, and track down potential suspects who appear at airports or on CCTV footage.

Behavioral characteristics  

Finally, several behavioral characteristics can also be used to help identify people and ensure that only device owners can use the device in question. For example, the way that each individual swipes and scrolls on their phone or holds their tablet is unique.

To be effective, behavioral biometrics involves the study of a number of data points, including:

  • How a user holds their phone
  • Swiping and scrolling patterns
  • Keystroke rhythm
  • A person’s gait, or how they walk

Behavioral biometrics involves analyzing a user’s digital, physical, and cognitive behavior to distinguish between cybercriminal activity and legitimate customers. For example, while a user may be left handed, an analysis of behavioral characteristics may reveal that someone using the device was using their right hand.

During the authentication process, a user’s biometric data is gathered and encrypted. Software is then used to select points of data as match points. These are then translated into numeric values.

When a user attempts to access a service or make a purchase, their biometric input is compared with the stored database value. If there’s a match, authentication is approved.

Behavioral biometrics is not as widely used as some of the other forms of biometrics we’ve outlined here. But, this form of biometric identification can be used by banks and government facilities to stop and prevent online fraud. It can also be used by law enforcement agencies to prove that someone committed a crime or was at a crime scene at a specific point in time. The technology is particularly useful for spotting application fraud, new account fraud, and account takeover fraud.

Behavioral biometrics is popular because it often runs in the background. This means it minimizes friction in the user experience. Similarly, behavioral biometrics allows financial institutions to verify a customer’s identity on a continuous basis, regardless of their device, location, or entered data.

Biometric security concerns

Let’s start by saying that biometric data is widely considered to be incredibly safe. That said, some people do have concerns over its use. After all, although biometric data is usually held in a secure location, any collection of user data could eventually be hacked or stolen by fraudsters.

Due to its sensitive nature and the fact that it’s now used so widely, biometric data is a particularly attractive target for hackers who are looking to steal customer data. Thankfully, biometric data is usually secured on a higher level than lists of usernames and passwords. As a result, as long as businesses employ rigorous data security measures, the risk of theft remains minimal.

On top of businesses employing adequate data security measures, customers can also proactively take steps to secure their own data. For example, customers should continue to set strong passwords wherever possible and ensure that any software they use is up-to-date.

If customers are concerned about how a website or service provider is using their data, then they may be able to opt out of providing it. For example, facial recognition can be disabled in Facebook settings. 

Biometric privacy concerns

In addition to the security concerns we’ve mentioned, some people are also concerned about privacy and the use of biometrics. As biometrics are a relatively new way of verifying identities, virtually no legal provisions in the world are specific to biometric data protection.

That said, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for European Member States does address biometric data. This means that 28 countries (including the UK) have regulations in place.

By contrast though, in the US, there is no single federal law regulating the collection and use of biometric data. But, individual states like Washington, Illinois, Texas, California, New York State, and Virginia do have laws in place.

For many, this is deeply concerning; particularly because biometric identifiers are used by police. This means that people are potentially being tracked and monitored without their knowledge or consent.

When it comes to privacy concerns, some people are worried about function creep (when information is used for a different purpose than it was collected for), covert collection (when information is collected without consent, participation, or knowledge) and the revealing of secondary information (such as if a scan of a face also reveals health information someone did not wish to share).

How can biometrics improve?

Looking to the future of biometrics, it’s clear that more must be done to address security and privacy concerns. This is particularly the case because biometrics are set to increase in prevalence over the coming years. In fact, some researchers predict that the use of facial recognition for making secure payments is likely to double by 2025. 

In the next few years, biometric technology must also look to increase its accuracy even further. Although the technology is both safe and secure, some researchers remain concerned about potential biases in the systems. For example, biometric systems are far better at identifying white faces successfully than they are at successfully identifying people of color. In order to gain universal acceptance, biometric systems must correct these biases. This way, they can gain the trust of users around the world.

Added to this, in order to gain public trust, it’s also clear that legislation surrounding the use of biometrics must catch up. If the public are clear about how businesses and law enforcement agencies are allowed to capture, store, and use their data, they’re likely to become much more accepting of the technology.

See how Veriff’s biometric verification solutions can help you - Book a demo

Here at Veriff, we’re experts in biometric verification. For this reason, we developed our own biometric authentication solution, which can help your business go passwordless and secure accounts easily.

This AI-powered reverification tool can verify users in around a second. It’s 99.9% accurate and verifies 99% of users on their first try. The whole process is as fast and simple as taking a selfie.

If you’re interested in learning more about biometric data and authentication, then get in touch with our experts. We’d love to show you exactly how our biometric solution can help your business. To find out more, book a personalized demo with our experts today.