i3 | November 20, 2019

Biometrics: You and Only You

by 
Murray Slovick

Consumer technology vendors are increasingly turning to biometrics for authentication and security. Biometrics measure the unique physiological characteristics of a given individual to verify his or her identity. With the latest smartphones, users can choose from a range of biometric authentication options to unlock their device, including facial recognition, fingerprint analysis, iris scanning or voice recognition.

The advantage of biometrics is that, unlike passwords that can be forgotten or given to a third party and ID cards or keys that may be lost or stolen, they are universal, measurable and unique. Research shows consumers favor touch or face recognition identification over passwords because these authentication mechanisms let them access their devices securely with minimal effort. Veridium recently announced the findings of its Biometric Consumer Sentiment Survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults who have experience using biometrics to log into their accounts. The study concluded that 70% of consumers would like expanded use of biometric authentication, citing speed (35%), security (31%) and not having to remember passwords (33%) as the primary reasons.

Biometric Security Options

Facial Recognition

Facial recognition identifies people by measuring the unique shape and structure of their face. In 2017 Apple launched the iPhone X, the first iPhone to use 3D face recognition technology. Apple's system projects 30,000 dots of IR light onto your face to measure and map facial contours. The iPhone then remembers the relative location of those dots.

  • Apple’s system-on-a-chip iPhone processors have a separate co-processor called the secure enclave processor used for security and cryptography. When your phone stores a Face ID model in the secure enclave processor, the main processor never actually sees the authentication process. It receives just the “outcome” of the operation; the “matched” or “not matched” result making it hard for hackers to gain access.
  • Google’s new Pixel 4 phones feature two Face Unlock IR cameras, a dot projector, a flood illuminator, an ambient light and proximity sensor and motion sensing technology. Pixel 4 users can change songs in their playlist, play a video and silence incoming calls by waving their hands.

Fingerprint ID

Fingerprints are comprised of ridges and valleys which intersect at various points that can each be identified and cataloged uniquely. Capacitive fingerprint scanners were the first biometric authentication method to appear on smartphones. They detect the ridges of the fingerprint as they contact a conductive plate. Further, ultrasound sensors create a 3D image of a fingerprint. Fooling the ultrasonic sensor is much harder, since the scanner references your fingerprint’s pattern, but also the contours of the ridges and notches. Another advantage is that the sensor operates through the display. The ability to produce screen panels with integrated fingerprint sensors allows Samsung’s Galaxy S10 phones to place the sensor on the front of the phone.

Iris Recognition

Iris recognition technology provides another non-invasive method of authenticating a user. Iris scanning, introduced by Samsung’s Galaxy models in 2017, offers an extremely high level of security via near-infrared optical technology that captures a detailed image of a user’s iris pattern. Iris recognition should not be confused with retina scans. Retina scans use the vascular structure at the back of the eye to identify an individual.

Voice and Speech Recognition

Voice and speech recognition are separate biometric concepts. The key to voice recognition is to convert the user’s speech waveform to a digital representation for analysis and processing. Speech recognition is a user interface technology that allows users to interact with and control technologies by speaking to them. Each of the main AI assistants — Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google Assistant — can perform searches and basic tasks based on voice commands.

Biometric sensors all work on the same principle: verifying a user’s identity via unique personal physical characteristics. Studies show that consumers are embracing biometrics, thanks to their smartphones. Going forward, items like credit cards and driver’s licenses also could become more securely represented by biometrics.