Hey WeLiveSecurity, how does biometric authentication work?


Your eyes can be the window to your soul, but they can also be your boarding pass or the unlock key to your phone. What are the pros and cons of using biometric traits for authentication?

We’ve already gotten used to the ability to confirm your identity using your fingerprint or face. Most of us carry a piece of this technology in our pockets: our phones are able to recognize not only our facial features and fingerprints, but also our voices, sleep patterns, and heart and breathing rates.

As biometric identification becomes more common and reliable, it is also increasingly used as the default authentication technology. Chances are you already use your fingerprint or face to unlock your phone, open the door and start your car, or manage your bank account. But are we ready to give away all our unique biometric traits in exchange for (the promise of) better security?

In this article, we’ll look at some of the more established types of biometric authentication and examine the pros and cons of this ubiquitous technology.

What are the most common types of biometric authentication?

1. Fingerprint recognition

Many countries use fingerprints on our identity cards and when applying for travel visas, and authorities have long used biometric features (fingerprints and more) to identify criminals and solve crimes. Fingerprints were used for centuries. But it was when Apple integrated a fingerprint sensor into its iPhone 5S in 2013 that the technology first became widespread.

Figure 1. Fingerprint authentication in an iPhone

Figure 1. Fingerprint authentication in an iPhone

Over the years, these technologies have evolved from the physical home button of the iPhone with an integrated capacitive sensor capable of generating an electrical charge upon contact with fingerprint ridges to map the user’s finger and the recognize.

More recently, however, it’s on Android phones that fingerprint sensors have flourished. Different brands have different approaches to their models, using similar capacitive sensors, under-screen optical sensors that use light to create images on the fingerprint or, more recently, ultrasonic sensors that bounce a pulse of inaudible sound against the finger to create a complex 3D image.

Optical sensors vs capacitive sensors vs ultrasonic sensors

Figure 2. Three types of fingerprint sensors in phones

Although fingerprint recognition is a fairly secure method of authentication, unless someone steals your fingerprint or finger, it all depends on the reliability of the device you are using. When it comes to data protection, most major manufacturers, like Apple, Google or Samsung, store your fingerprint locally and not online. So even when you use your fingerprint to sign in to a service or account on your phone, that app will only receive a digital key and not your fingerprint details.

2. Facial recognition

What seemed like science fiction not too long ago is now another common method of identity verification. Our facial features are now enough to open doors, unlock our smartphones, validate payments and access all the credentials stored in our password management applications. Facial recognition can work in different ways: simple comparison of images, video sequences, three-dimensional data or image composition by several cameras.

The simplest systems, usually found in cheaper phones, can only compare your face to a previously stored face image, other systems use measurements such as the distance between your eyes, the measurement from your forehead to your chin or the shape of your lip contours, however, not always transparently.

However, things can turn sour if the technology is used maliciously. While it is up to us whether or not to use this technology on our phones, it can be difficult to opt out of surveillance camera directed by companies or the governmentcreating a problem of loss of anonymity in public spaces.

Reliable verification of a user's identity Easy tracking of citizens' movements and location Versatile: phones, payment verification, rapid passport control Loss of anonymity in public areas Easy recognition and identification of criminals Government surveillance Easy detection of criminals people lost at large gatherings Profiling business behavior that can be sold for advertising or other correspondence without consent More secure than passwords Possibility of data breach and access to sensitive content

Figure 3. Facial recognition – pros and cons

Figure 4. Face recognition options in Android and iOS

3. Voice recognition

Hey Google” or “Hey Siri” are simple commands you can use to interact with your phone’s voice assistant. In fact, they are voice recognition systems, responding only to your specific voice commands. When setting up your phone, you are asked to say a few sentences out loud, allowing the algorithm to learn voice patterns that it will continue to learn through real-world use.The more you talk to a virtual assistant, such that Google, SiriWhere Alexathe more it will recognize your voice patterns.

Figure 5. Speech recognition on Android and iOS

Biometrics at a glance – advantages and disadvantages

Biometric authentication is convenient, but it poses new challenges for our privacy and security. While these technologies can replace long and hard-to-remember passwords, they can also be a means of disclosing our personal biometric data without always being certain how it will be used.

Data breaches mean that hackers can access and sell information to malicious actors who could, for example, create molds of our fingerprints and use them to gain access to buildings or devices without our knowledge or consent. .

And even considering how difficult these personal characteristics are to circumvent, other technologies like facial recognition leave us exposed all the time. And while governments use the security argument to use facial recognition cameras, it’s unclear exactly who they will target and how those images may be used in the future.

Figure 6. Biometric authentication – pros and cons

Figure 7. Health data on an iPhone

And that’s just the beginning

Portable devices, such as fitness trackers and smartwatches, know more and more about our heartbeats, our sleep patterns, our breathing rate and even our walking regularity. Soon, even behavioral biometrics, like the way our hands move to get our phones out of our pockets or the way we walk, might be enough to identify us. While these technologies are a dive into what we imagine a science-fiction future to be, their use requires careful discussion of technological developments, security and privacy.

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