The term biometrics refers to technologies that measure and analyse human physiological or behavioral characteristics for authentication or identification purposes. Some of the most widely used characteristics or biometric factors are fingerprints, irises, voice patterns and the spatial geometry of the face.
To start with, let us explain why biometrics are needed more than ever. Physical access control, say to a building, is generally based on locks and keys, on badge readers or on few-digit pincodes which are easily lost or stolen by malicious individuals. Because for access control based on keys or badges the authentication factor is something you have, there is no real guarantee that the person entering your building is the individual that was granted access in the first place.
The same accounts for access to computerized systems, access control there is mostly based on passwords or pincodes thus the authentication factor is something you know. Unfortunately end users have to remember such an amount of passwords and pincodes that they no longer apply good password practices. End users tend to write passwords down, to keep new passwords as simple as possible and to use always the same password.
With biometrics the access control factor is something you are, a measureable physiological or behavioral characteristic, which is often more difficult to fake, steal or immitate than a password or a key. Users don’t have to remember it and they cannot by accident leave it at home. This physiological or behavioral characteristic is referred to as a biometric factor, it can be your fingerprints or the way you use your voice.
On this website you will learn of different biometric solutions and applications. Biometrics can be used for far more than access control to a building or to a computer system. What did you think of a time attendance system based on biometrics? Or you are shop owner working with a loyalty card but customers tend to forget their card at home, why not replace the cards for a system with fingerprint recognition?
Biometric solutions can be divided into two groups, based on the type of biometric factor they use
- solutions based on a physiological factor, examples are fingerprint recognition and iris recognition
- solutions based on a behavioral factor, examples are voice pattern recognition and keystroke dynamics (also known as typing biometrics)
There are many factors which can in theory be used as a biometric solution to be applied for authentication or identification. For such a factor to be suitable, it must meet the following criteria:
- Universality – the biometric factor must be something each person has.
- Uniqueness – with the factor it must be possible to separate individuals from another, this must be possible and not be overly expensive with existing technical means.
- Permanence – how well the biometric factor resists the effect of time, generally speaking “aging”.
- Collectability – it must be possible and not overly expensive or time consuming to measure the factor.
- Acceptability – biometrics is not always very well accepted. This is generally dependent on people’s view and on how invasive a certain technique is. For example retina scans have low acceptability with the general public because retina scans require direct contact with the reader and retina scans can demonstrate pregnancy and other medical conditions such as high bloodpressure.
- Circumvention – how easily it is to immitate the biometric factor.
- Performance – in general terms the speed, the accuracy and the robustness.
Note that these criteria also depend on how the biometric factor is applied, technological differences have a high impact on the suitability of the biometric. For more information as to how identify a good biometric factor, and how to compare the performance of different solutions, refer to this article.
To end this preliminary outline, a few examples of biometric solutions which are detailled further on this website.
- Fingerprint recognition
- Iris recognition
- Face recognition
- Voice recognition
- Hand geometry recognition
- Retina recognition
Biometrics can be applied for two-factor authentication – verifying that a person is who he claims to be – and for identification – determining who is the person based on the measured biometric factor.
Any application requiring authentication or identification can make use of biometrics, this does not mean that using biometrics always has an advantage over other authentication and identification techniques. A few examples where using biometrics might have advantages:
- Time attendance systems
- Access control to computer systems or portable media
- Physical access control
- Loyalty card or other customer systems
The main reasons to go for biometrics are to increase security while decreasing the burden of keeping keys, remembering passwords, etc. Throughout this website we investigate the different biometric factors, solutions and technologies.