The following guest post was submitted by Jen Martinson, senior editor for Secure Thoughts.
(M2SYS is a leader when it comes to biometrics and studying its uses in many different fields. Once you start taking a look at their resources, you’ll find yourself engrossed for hours and end with a much greater understanding of the technology).
With a push into the mainstream market on smartphones in the last year or two, fingerprint security is the newest trend that is supposed to keep us safe. While it has been around in higher-grade security systems for years (and in media for even longer), biometric scanning has finally reached a point where it can be reliably and cheaply used in everyday devices, mostly to our benefit.
Yet is it better than the systems we already have in place? An extensive password combined with another form of verification is usually enough to keep most cybercriminals out of the front door (other backdoor methods are an entirely different story). Can we rely on fingerprint scanning to keep our information safe?
Here’s what you need to know:
A simple four-digit PIN grants someone a one in 10,000 chance of getting a correct guess the first time, assuming a perfectly random distribution of PINs (please don’t use 1111). A password of a decent length grants an even lower risk that someone will guess their way past your security. What are the odds that someone has a similar enough fingerprint to yours to the degree that they could get their way past a standard biometric security program?
The numbers vary a bit, but one in 70 million is a common number thrown around. The odds that you come into contact or ever hear of one of the other dozen people that could get into your data is slim to none. Combine that with the knowledge that most of those other people wouldn’t be interested in your data in the first place, and you can consider your fingerprint a perfect seal.
Perhaps in the future other biometric data such as blood flow or DNA will be combined with fingerprint scanners to brew the perfect storm of security. Once that happens you and only you will get into your phone.
Law Enforcement Issues
When it comes to comparing fingerprints to other types or verification, you need to know that the police can use your fingerprint to open your phone if they need to, at least in the United States. Without going into too much legal jargon, passwords are protected by the Fifth Amendment as they constitute “knowledge.” Fingerprints are not considered private in this regard and so they can be used at will by law enforcement. You are almost certainly not a criminal, but you need to know your rights so that you can make adjustments if needed. If you are worried, then you will want to have a PIN or password as a lock on your phone.
Potential Tech Reliability Issues
You may wonder if there is anything to worry about regarding how well the technology works and whether it will break down over time. You have nothing in particular to worry about, seeing as how the technology has been implemented by nearly every major smartphone manufacturer in at least a couple of models. If they don’t have a product incorporating biometric security just yet, then they will shortly. Troubleshooting has already gone by with security systems all across the world, leaving you with the benefits.
Of course the fingerprint reader can break, but so can smartphone screens or speakers. Anything put under enough pressure will break. Bugs can occur, but technology has now reached the point where bugs can be fixed with a download and a ten-minute update. No company wants to be on the hook for a faulty product, and that works in your favor. You can put your trust in your fingerprints.
Double Up Your Security
Fingerprints need not be your only line of protection. You still need to worry about other kinds of threats to your information and devices other than a direct theft or break-in. Malware exists, and it is not going away. Scams and social engineering are favorite ways for cybercriminals online to make a quick buck. You still need to stay alert and make sure all of your other security programs are up to date.
Unfortunately, biometric security and strong verification measures don’t protect you from methods of cyberattack that bypass those methods to begin with. Public networks allow hackers to simply wait around in a lobby with their computer open to a sniffer program. The program will allow the hacker to see everything that is being transferred over the network. This includes any financial information or private information you are sending over the internet.
They will see it clear as day unless you have to protection of a Virtual Private Network, which is a service that will connect you to an offsite secure server using an encrypted connection. Your location will be hidden because of your masked IP address and you will be able to use any network without fear of intrusion. All you need is a quality service to compliment your biometric security features.
Fingerprint technology isn’t perfect yet, but it’s getting close, and it is a superior alternative to most other verification methods. If you’re concerned about some of the legal issues still surrounding fingerprint technology or are otherwise concerned about the security, then it would be best to have both a password and a fingerprint be the selected method to access your data. That way you’ll have every advantage in the war on cybercrime.
Hopefully by this point you have a general idea on whether fingerprint security is for you or not. If you are interested all you need to do is get a device that supports and enables it. We are fortunate enough to have those options that we can turn on and off as we wish. Try to spend some more time researching the facts and see where the technology is going.
Jen Martinson is a blogger and online security expert working as senior editor for Secure Thoughts, an internet security website whose main focus is keeping everyday people safe from online threats. In addition to being an online security nut, Jen is also a math nerd who does algebra for fun.