When you hear the word biometrics, you might be forgiven for immediately imagining a series of eye-scanners and voice-activated doors to allow access into the vault of an evil genius’s lair. The truth is, biometrics have been used for this purpose for over a hundred years.
Biometrics presents the potential for an extremely high level of security, given that every human being has a set of characteristics completely unique to them. Somebody can guess a password or steal a PIN number, but replicating someone’s fingerprint is a lot more difficult.
Here are some examples of biometrics used in security.
The fingerprint has been helping police keep a record of criminal offenders since 1891. It is still used for that purpose now, but is also being applied elsewhere in society. Many clubs and gyms use members’ fingerprints as an alternative to membership cards or passwords.
Recognizing somebody by their face is something we all do every day, but is also used as a formal method of identification. Passports and ID cards, for example, typically use a headshot combined with a signature and a unique number. But as facial recognition has been shown to be fallible, it is starting to give way to other forms of biometrics as they become more accessible.
Having long been portrayed in TV and film, eye-scanning is becoming an increasingly viable form of identification in reality.
Mostly the scenes on screen are depicting retina scans, which are different to iris recognition technology. The latter uses a camera to take a picture of the coloured part of your eye and match it to an existing file on a database.
Each iris is unique, so this technique is considered more accurate than facial recognition systems. In fact, scanning both irises is regarded by some to be as accurate as taking all ten fingerprints of an individual.
Cardiac Rhythm Recognition
You may not know what a PQRST pattern is, but you’ve probably seen one before in TV hospital scenes. This is the name given to the zigzag patterns that blip across a heart monitor screen and map the patient’s heartbeat. Like fingerprints and irises, these are unique to each person.
However, reading somebody’s heartbeat is a little more difficult than their fingerprint or iris. As such, technology is being developed where this can be effectively applied, mostly in the form of smart watches and wristbands to work in conjunction with other electronic devices.
There are other characteristics unique to each individual which are being used in biometrics. Voice recognition, for example, whereby the pitch, frequency and tone of someone’s voice is analysed.
The unique pattern of veins in the back of a person’s hand can be used as an identifier. This is the latest in a line of techniques using the hand, in addition to fingerprints and hand geometry, which measures its shape and size.
For example, a bank in Jordan has offered iris-scanning as an alternative to governmental identification since 2009. Since then there has been zero fraudulent transactions out of more than a million, as well as an increase in efficiency.
Gatwick Airport recently introduced an authentication system that uses eye-scanning technology. Not only is this method highly reliable but also allows passengers to pass through more quickly.
An ambitious security measure is currently being undertaken in India; its Universal ID initiative uses biometrics to provide a unique ID to over 200 million people currently enrolled. It is the largest biometric identification program in the world.
Biometric methods are not only used by governments for security reasons – they are now much more available to the consumer. The latest iPhone includes a fingerprint sensor and other biometric technology is expected to be standard in smartphones come 2014.
As the public become more trusting of biometrics in security, their application in society is becoming more seamless. With innovative techniques constantly emerging, the futuristic world we are used to only seeing in the movies may not be as far away as we think.
Can you think of any other ways in which biometrics is changing and revolutionising technology and security? Share your ideas and comments below.
Image by Rachmaninoff License: Creative Commons
Author Liam Crouse is a Cornish writer living and working in Bristol. He has a keen interest in social media and technology and recommends Essentra Security for personalised ID services.