Are we are ready to start moving towards biometrics as a viable alternative to the good old trusty username and password? It’s an interesting area to look at for lots of reasons. For us at Wandera, anything in the security arena, even if it’s on the fringes of being mainstream, is worth keeping a close eye on.

Understanding biometric authentication

Simply put, biometrics is something about you that can be measured. It can be a physical or behavioral attribute and it constitutes something unique. We use biometrics all the time without thinking about it. For example, this amazing skill happens in the blink of an eye when you meet someone. Your brain will instantly use visual appearance to recognize a friend and then continue to further confirm their identity as soon as they speak (like an intrinsic form of two-factor authentication).
Does the person look similar but sound different? Probably not the same person after all. But they may be a close relative. More authentication required. Without thinking about it you’ll probably ask them “you aren’t Fred, are you?” and so on.
biometrics fingerprint
What we all do instinctively is a real challenge for computers and smartphones to learn, but if we can make biometrics quick, easy and natural to use, then we are onto something that will bring security standards to the next level.
Fingerprints, retina scans, eye vessels, DNA, face and ear patterns are all physical attributes that are considered unique. Likewise, voice, gait, heart-beat and patterns like typing rhythm can also be indicators of identity. Research on how to capture and measure all of these markers is well underway and offer real possibilities.

Why is biometrics so effective in security?

With security and encryption, the longer the ‘key’ the harder the ‘code’ to crack. Most people struggle to remember long PIN codes or highly complicated passwords. So in ourselves we are limited in storing and recalling strong but memorable and convenient passwords.
Read our tips for a more secure password
The promise of biometrics is that the ‘key’ is already long and doesn’t need to be remembered or written down. It’s part of you already so it’s always on-hand (excuse the pun) for use.
Fingerprint scanner, artwork, biometrics

Fingerprint scanning is already second-nature

Out of all the biometric systems in use today, fingerprint scanning seems to be winning the race for widespread adoption. Apple’s TouchID is the most widely deployed consumer implementation of the technology, making unlocking your smartphone very easy and streamlining things like authorizations for payments.
Fingerprint scanners aren’t new however. In the United States you’ll probably have your finger scanned at passport control. Likewise, if you’ve been to Disney World, you’ve probably stuck your finger into a scanner (actually, Disney World isn’t scanning the print, just measuring your finger). The point is, that using your finger is quick and easy and we are accustomed to doing it.

Implementing biometrics

Your desktop or laptop computer has been able to grab a high-quality image or of scan your fingerprint for quite some time now and most modern smartphones have the horsepower and hardware to do the same. Add to the mix other smartphone features like the accelerometer and gyroscope, plus the heart-rate monitor on your wrist and you’ve now got all the bits in place to make personal identification happen quickly, easily and constantly.
We already have the power in our pockets to make use of advanced biometrics. So why are we still stuck with usernames and passwords?
As you can imagine, there are some kinks to work out.
In part 2, we’ll look at some of these and why full use of biometrics could be a challenge that we all need to think about.
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