Your identity is your most important asset. Unique to you. Not shared by anyone else on the planet. Proving our identity allows us to bank, shop, and travel. We are used to confirming our identities with a credential, but passports get stolen and ID cards faked. And when identities are stolen, everyone’s security is put at risk.
Fortunately, biometric identification is playing an ever more important role in our everyday lives. Our biometrics are unique, very difficult to fake, and don't change over time. Biometric security is paramount in contexts such as airports where people's safety relies on robust security systems.
What is biometric security?
Biometric security allows individuals to be identified and authenticated based on their unique characteristics (or biometrics), previously verified and recorded in a database. Biometric identification involves determining an individual's identity, and biometric authentication involves comparing an individual's characteristics to establish their resemblance to stored biometric information.
Biometrics are often split into three categories:
- Morphological biometrics use an individual's body structure and include physical characteristics such as the iris, face, fingerprint, or vein. These unique characteristics are analysed using biometric security scanners and compared to information held in a database.
- Behavioural biometrics use an individual's distinct behavioural patterns, including how they walk, speak, or type on a keyboard. Analysing these patterns can reveal an individual's identity.
- Biological biometrics use information from an individual’s genes and molecules, including their blood or DNA. Samples are generally taken from body fluids.
How does biometric security work?
Biometric security turns the individual into the key or the ID document.
Biometric security systems require individuals to provide their biometric information, anything from a blood sample to an eye scan or a speech sample. This information is then mapped, encrypted, and saved to a database. It can then be used to confirm the individual's identity.
Biometric scanners capture an individual's biometric information, which is then compared to the data saved in a database. If there is a match, the individual's identity is verified, and their access is approved—conversely, access is denied.
While some systems rely on one form of biometric information to identify and authorise, more robust ones require a combination of several biometric sources. Older security systems can also be replaced by biometric security or may also be used in addition to it.
What are the different types of biometric security and their applications?
There are two types of facial recognition: 2D and 3D systems.
2D face recognition uses feature analysis techniques in which facial features are localised and then measured. Some facial recognition systems use up to 22 geometrical features to distinguish between faces.
3D facial recognition uses sensors to analyse the shape of the face precisely. 3D facial recognition is more accurate than 2D facial recognition as light does not affect it, and the face can be scanned in the dark. 3D facial recognition systems can also analyse a face from different angles rather than the user having to look head-on at the camera.
What tech uses facial recognition?
The Smart Biopod by ICM uses facial recognition in its airport terminals to verify passenger identity. The technology can be used across multiple touchpoints (self-service check-in, self-service bag drop, biometric exit, and lounge access) and provides a touchless and hygienic passenger experience.
As reported on their website, ICM was the first company to roll out face-to-passport biometric validation for self-service bag drop for Air New Zealand at Auckland Airport in December 2015. ICM now has biometrically enabled bag drop units at airports across the world including Singapore Changi Airport, Narita International Airport, Dubai Airport, Wellington Airport and more.
There are three types of fingerprint scanners.
- Optical scanners shine a bright light over the fingerprint and take something similar to a digital photograph. The scanner uses a light-sensitive microchip to create a digital image, which is then analysed by an IoT-connected computer. Using pattern-matching software, the user is authorised if their fingerprint matches the one on record.
- Capacitive scanners electrically measure fingerprints. Every fingerprint is unique, as each finger has different ridge patterns and distances between the ridges. Capacitive scanners measure the distance between ridges on the fingerprint to grant access if the fingerprint matches what is on record.
- Ultrasonic scanners use ultrasound to map fingerprints.
What tech uses fingerprint scanners?
Modern smartphones use all three types of fingerprint scanners. Optical scanners were the first type of fingerprint scanner used by smartphones; however, capacitive and ultrasound scanners offer more robust security.
Ultrasonic scanners offer the most security as they can scan the fingerprint to capture a detailed 3D reproduction. One top-end smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S22, uses a Qualcomm 3D ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensor.
Iris recognition systems use infrared light to take images of the eye. The eye’s characteristics can be detected regardless of eye colour because iris melanin is transparent under infrared illumination.
Algorithms then identify the boundaries of the iris and examine the image to identify a distinct representation of the user's iris pattern. As each individual's pattern is distinctive, eye recognition systems can accurately determine the iris of a user whose biometric information is held in a database.
What tech uses iris recognition?
Access control systems, such as the CMI-Tech EF45, use iris recognition. It relies on an automated method of biometric identification based on mathematical analysis of video images of one or both eyes—even from a distance. This access control system uses high-quality biometrics as the iris pattern cannot be transferred to surfaces, making it very difficult to copy.
More than 70 parts of the body make our voices sound the way they do. Our unique physiological characteristics heavily influence the features of our voices, and voice biometrics understands these connections. Each individual has a voiceprint—similar to a fingerprint—and voice biometric systems can identify individuals by recognising the characteristics that make one person's voice different from another's.
What tech uses voice recognition?
IDVoice by ID R&D is an AI-driven biometric voice recognition engine providing voice verification for mobile, web, and telephone channels. The system also provides physical access and IoT device integration. IDVoice is language-independent and even works with very short utterances.
The system also offers text-dependent and text-independent voice verification. Text-dependent voice verification happens when a person says a specific set phrase. However, a user can say anything for text-independent voice verification when authentication takes place quickly in the background.
Finger vein recognition
Finger vein biometrics is also known as vein matching or vascular technology. The technique analyses blood vessel patterns visible from the skin's surface. Near-infrared light is shined on the user's fingers, and an image of the veins inside their hand is then captured.
Finger vein recognition has yet to be widely adopted but is showing extraordinary promise as it reduces the AI biometric bias and is almost impossible to counterfeit.
What tech uses finger vein recognition?
The Egyptian government partnered with biometric tech firm FinGo to implement the world’s first finger vein recognition technology for its national ID programme. FinGo uses Hitachi’s VeinID technology to power its biometric solution.
What are the benefits of biometric security?
Most significantly, biometric technology provides far higher security than traditional methods. This is because biometric systems require answers about what a person has and is. As each person's biometrics are different, only the individual can generally access this information.
Biometric technology also improves user experience as people's identities can be confirmed quickly and conveniently. This is particularly useful in places such as airports where the fast, uninterrupted flow of people is necessary for efficiency. Also, your biometrics cannot be lost, stolen, or forgotten, unlike passports.