Biometrics: Changing the face of IT security

As biometric technology advances, there are security concerns technology experts are addressing.

The United States and several other countries have switched to biometric passports, in which citizenship information is logged in to government databases. Credit: CPOA

The field of biometrics encompasses a wide range of new technologies, each focusing on a different aspect of the human body. Some biometric devices are designed for facial recognition, while others are breaking ground in the realm of psychology.

Biometric technology has become popular in both developing and developed countries to streamline identification and keep citizen records in one convenient database.

Rapid advancements in the field have led to concerns about keeping technology secure. Critics say that these databases can be vulnerable to hacking, while others simply do not want federal agencies keeping such sensitive information.

Practical solutions

The United States and several other countries have switched to biometric passports, in which citizenship information is logged in to government databases. Customs at points of entry are able to simply scan passports without having to manually log information.

Now, airports are further integrating their biometric capabilities by installing biometric-automated kiosks. These kiosks offer a variety of benefits but have been slow to spread across the United States and Canada; only 400 kiosks exist in the two nations.

“APC kiosks offer a cost-effective and rapidly deployable means of reducing congestion at international arrivals,” Maxne Most, a principal at Acuity Market Intelligence, told Digital Journal. “These announcements reflect a decisive global trend toward expediting international airport passengers through rapid adoption of automated border control technology.”

International travelers are able to log their passport information automatically without having to wait in line to see an agent. This could potentially reduce wait times for arrivals up to 80 percent for international travelers and 50 percent overall.

It’s all in the behavior

Makers of wearable technology have incorporated biometric principles. Shirts designed by OMsignal can keep track of many aspects of the body, including a user’s heart rate, the intensity of a workout and energy levels.

OMsignal is part of the growing field of “behaviometrics,” which focuses on behavior and pattern recognition. OMsignal’s clothing is equipped with a “little black box” and sensors that monitor heart rate, movement, body heat and other information. The shirt monitors change and send updates continuously to its corresponding app. The app analyzes the data and informs users of low activity levels, workout performance. It also compiles weekly averages that let users track their progress over time.

Behavioral biometrics is being used to keep PCs secure as well. Behaviosec, a company based in Silicon Valley and Stockholm has applied biometric principles to computer hardware. Behaviosec looks at a user’s specific behaviors involving a mouse, keyboard and various buttons. These patterns are unique, and Behaviosec builds a profile that the computer recognizes. When users type, the computer can recognize their identity, so when someone else uses the computer, the computer will know and log the user off. Danske Bank, in Denmark, Copenhagen, and many e-commerce outlets use Behaviosec to protect customers from fraud.

Meanwhile, India has introduced a massive biometric card program to streamline identification and documentation. The program known as Aadhaar has already recorded demographic information from more than half a billion residents, with the main goal of issuing these cards to all of India’s 1.2 billion citizens by the end of 2014. The database will streamline banking records and allow the Indian government to provide direct cash assistance or subsidies to the country’s poor populations.

Despite the privacy concerns, biometrics is a budding field with applications that go beyond simple finger-scanning technologies.

Norman Rozenberg
Norman Rozenberg, based in the New York metro area, keeps up with the dynamic world of development, innovation and public health. He has also contributed to Txchnologist, an online technology magazine.
Norman Rozenberg
Norman Rozenberg
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