Biometrics and biometric data: What is it and is it secure?

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DNA never changes – at least that’s what science says. That means each person has identifiable pieces that are unique only to them. That’s primarily what biometrics are – physical or behavioral characteristics that can identify someone digitally to access systems, devices or retrieve data. Biometrics can be used alone or with each other to accurately identify that person. Biometrics can improve online security, but when attempting to hide biometric access, especially online, you need a VPN.

What is VPN?

VPN, or Virtual Private Network is used to connect and securely protect online data and activities with encrypted tunnels. While biometrics helps identify someone, VPNs do the exact opposite – they hide IP addresses and online activities, making it difficult for hackers or cybercriminals to retrieve personal information and sensitive data.

There are different types of biometric data:

  • Fingerprints

Every finger has unique ridges and grooves. With fingerprint scanners on computers and smartphones, this technology will continue to grow in popularity. According to Spiceworks, this type of biometric authentication is the most common, used by 57% of companies today.

  • Voice recognition

The intonation of a voice is unique. Banks use this type of technology to verify the identity on a bank account. Amazon and Google also use voice recognition with Alexa and Google Dot. According to Spiceworks, 2% of companies use voice recognition for authentication within their operations.

  • Photo and video

This is facial and retinal recognition, where cameras can scan different elements of the face or scan the iris to properly identify an individual. Right now, 14% of companies are using facial recognition, and 5% are using retinal or iris scans.

  • DNA

DNA scans are being used quite often in law enforcement, but the technology is starting to be used in additional industries.

  • Signature

This is also called behavior characteristics. It analyzes how a person interacts with computerized systems. That means the way someone uses a mouse, their handwriting, and how they use keystrokes are all biometric data that can help identify someone. Banks and other places have been using digital signature scanners for quite a while and are successful in capturing this information to identify fraud.

  • Hand geometry

This measures and records important elements of the hand, such as the surface, width, length and thickness. This was one of the early adaptations of using biometrics for accessibility and security.

Understanding how biometrics work

Biometrics deal with physical aspects of a person’s identity, but how do companies extract the information? Most biometric systems have three different components to extract the information. First, a sensor is used to record and read identifying information when needed. The computer stores the information to compare for authenticity, and the software is the final piece that connects the hardware to the sensor. All three are needed to successfully perform.

The use of behavioral identifiers is also growing in popularity, as they are limited to a certain set of characteristics and can be used more effectively than physical identifiers in a number of instances. These common approaches that help distinguish between a human and robot include typing patterns, which evaluates the way someone types, the speed in which they type, the length of time it takes to go from one letter to the next, and the degree of impact the individual has on the keyboard. Another approach is physical movements. Someone’s walk is unique to them and can be used by companies to distinguish an individual employee. This can also be used as an additional form of protection.

Almost everyone uses an app or two on their devices. Interestingly enough, the way someone interacts with their apps, how frequently they are opened, and how low someone allows their battery to get can be tracked. How often someone checks their social media, the times of day when someone uses their phone the most, and the locations where the device is being used are all unique behavioral characteristics that can help distinguish the person from a bot. As bots continue to advance, this may become a concern.

Finally, it is important for individuals to consider the way they use their devices. Finger movements on a screen or trackpad, and how someone uses their mouse are unique to an individual and can be detected using certain software. This leaves an option for vulnerability. What’s interesting about this is that no hardware is needed to recognize these identifiers.

The use of biometric platforms continues to grow in everyday devices, as it is a very secure way to log into systems without a password. Even with a stronger security alternative in place, there are ways for cybercriminals and identity theft scammers to bypass the system.

Are Biometrics secure?

According to a Ping Identity survey, approximately 92% of enterprises surveyed rank biometric authentication in securing identity data on premises as effective or very effective. Additionally, over 86% believe it is effective for protecting data being stored in the cloud. Privacy concerns also come into play when dealing with biometrics. Here are some things that can occur:

  • The likelihood of biometrics becoming commonplace within society is real. That means people won’t be as cautious about their security and the measures they take. This could very well cause complacency and encourage identity theft.
  • Data could get hacked, especially high-profile data. Although secured on a higher level, the use of biometrics in common ways heightens the need for more rigorous security, as this data may be available in more places that could compromise private security protocols.
  • Any data stored in a biometric database could become vulnerable, especially since there are no passwords being used. When data is compromised and passwords are used, the individual can change their password. Individuals cannot change their biometric information, so if it becomes compromised, things could quickly escalate out of control.
  • There are some pieces of physical identity that can be duplicated. It is easy to retrieve a set of fingerprints from glasses or other items from public places that could be used to compromise someone’s identity. Once this occurs, access to private information and accounts becomes a reality.
  • Right now, the laws governing the use of biometrics are still being developed. This means the rights and protections for using biometrics are not universal and vary based on state. Until there is a federal law in place to enhance the protections and privacy of the use of biometrics, having additional security protocols in place is a necessity.

Unfortunately, there are certain authentication methods that can be pulled from devices, software used to analyze data, or company servers. There is also a high probability of false positives and negatives to be present. Are there flaws in the system? Yes. Facial recognition software may be at fault when the individual changes their hair, wears glasses instead of contacts, or even wears makeup. Individuals who are sick or tired may have issues with retinal scans, and voice recognition software may not be able to identify the person if they are sick and hoarse.

Cybercriminals can easily disguise the way someone sounds or looks. They can also access fingerprints without too much trouble. This means individuals and companies must utilize multiple ways to authenticate the identity of a person. By having cross-authentication processes in place, it is much harder for someone to impersonate an individual and gain access to their information.

There are ways to help protect biometric data, just like using a VPN. This will assist in keeping hackers or cybercriminals from accessing private information. It is best to use biometric information in limited places to ensure personal information is not compromised. Right now, using strong passwords is still the best way to keep sensitive data safe. It is just as important to keep all software being used updated. Device manufacturers frequently send out updates or patches. It is best to install the updates right away to lessen the possibility of the device being open to security breaches. This is key especially in devices that utilize biometrics.

Even with biometric systems in place, that doesn’t mean it has to be used. Many phones and computers have the biometric option, but also provide an option where it does not have to be used. Many people prefer to bypass the biometric option and stick with password protection. Additionally, Facebook recognition can be disabled within the platform.

The privacy risks of biometric authentication are great, as the more data is collected on an individual, the more their privacy is being compromised, whether by an employer or the government. As the use of DNA scans grows, the likelihood of privacy concerns will grow, as exposure to extremely sensitive information such as medical conditions, family relationships and other HIPAA regulated data is compromised.

Companies have a duty to their users to protect their information and identities. When using a VPN, using a provider that has a no-log policy will offer some protections to keep a user’s identity and activities safe, as the information is encrypted. With the use of device-based authentication, raw biometric information is not accessible to software or systems outside of the module. This is a layer-based authentication method that is gaining in popularity among phones and secure payment systems to circumvent the use of software that could be problematic.

Biometrics is the wave of the future. The challenge is putting systems and protocols in place that won’t be easily compromised.

M2SYS Technology simplifies the development and deployment of biometric projects