Biometric ID: Benefits & Risks of Biometric Identification

Mike Engle

Biometric identifiers are now being used as an individual’s biometric ID. With security becoming an increasingly important issue, biometrics are the way to go.

What does biometric mean? Biometrics are physical or biological characteristics that identify a specific human being. Examples of biometrics include fingerprints, face and voice recognition, and retina scans. These biometric identifiers are replacing the need for passwords in many digital capacities.

What Is Biometric Identification?

Biometric identification is the technology and practice of using biometrics to identify users attempting to access protected systems. Using physical characteristics like fingerprints, facial scans, or unique handwriting styles, a physical system can compare scanned features against a stored digital identity to determine if a user is who they say they are.

Biometrics play a significant role in authentication because they are typically solid and immutable proofs of identity. More specifically, they fit well as a factor in Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) authentication schemes, which include the following:

  1. Something the user has: The user typically has a physical object, including scanned badges, documents, or digital tokens in removable media (a USB token)
  2. Something the user knows: A private piece of information, like a password or PIN
  3. Where the user is: Location information provided by the user or a GPS signal
  4. Something the user accesses: An email account or phone that can receive temporary security codes or run authenticator apps
  5. Something the user is: Physical information (fingerprints, facial scans)

Biometric ID falls under an umbrella term of “biometric verification,” which includes the following:

  • Biometric Identification: Searching and comparing a user against an enrollment database of identities
  • Biometric Verification: Comparing user-submitted biometric information against the database information to verify identity

Biometrics are a potent form of identification and verification because they are difficult, if not impossible, to fake without an extraordinary amount of work. Currently, there have been some demonstrated possibilities for breaching fingerprint authentication systems with a combination of software and fingerprint models. Still, as of 2021, most hackers will target traditional forms of non-biometric authentication (like passwords or PINs) through phishing techniques.

What Are Types of Biometric Identification, and How Do They Compare?

Modern advances in physical identification provide several ways to scan unique physical characteristics to create strong IDs. Some of these physical features include the following:

  • Fingerprints: One of the most common forms of biometric ID, fingerprint scans leverage the uniqueness of fingerprints to project physical devices, ranging from laptops to mobile phones and tablets, and are found on both enterprise and consumer-grade technology.
  • Facial Recognition: Another technique that has made its way into the consumer space, facial scans can use unique facial features and feature arrangements to determine identity.
  • Retina and Iris Scans: These scans utilize patterns of veins in the retina or features of the iris to determine identity.
  • Voice Recognition: Modern identification has begun to use speech patterns, inflections, and tones to create unique vocal fingerprints through a user’s speech. Voice authentication has long been one of the less reliable forms of popular biometric IDs, but advances in technology have changed that perception over the past few years.

There are also several expanded verification methods that are used in more enterprise or scientific research. For example, advances have been made in signature and handwriting recognition areas, where writing patterns can identify a user. Other innovations in AI and physical recognition lead to metrics like gait recognition (unique patterns in how you walk), vein recognition in hands and palms, typing behavior recognition, and even odor recognition.

While these innovations are exciting, many of these more cutting-edge biometrics aren’t as crucial for enterprise authentication. Facial scans, fingerprints, eye scans, and in some cases, voice recognition, are becoming the standard go-to methods.

In What Industries Are Biometric IDs Being Used?

When discussing the specific industries using physical verification, it’s important to note that biometric ID is widely used across all sectors as a basis of strong authentication in enterprise and consumer contexts. In addition, biometrics can help protect endpoint devices from unauthorized access and lower IT costs by reducing overhead due to lost credentials or breaches resulting from phishing attacks.

Biometrics are also making their way into specific industries in unique ways. These industries include the following:

  • Financial Services: Biometrics can provide additional protection against fraud and theft in financial industries. One solution is electronic Know Your Customer (eKYC) technology that uses digital verification (including fingerprint and/or facial scans) as verification forms through software.
  • Healthcare: Similarly to eKYC, healthcare providers implement digital identification systems that allow doctors and nurses to ID patients through their physical characteristics and link that verification to their complete medical history. This provides no-touch service for essential administrative work.
  • Automotive: With the onset of innovation in automobiles with electric and self-driving vehicles, some manufacturers and third-party companies are developing biometric verification systems that can work in cars alongside, or in place of, traditional key starts. Here, physical verification can help prevent theft.
  • Travel and Hospitality: Increased demand for no-touch check-in and service drives the adoption of biometrics in hospitality. These advances include using facial scans as part of no-touch service and instant check-ins with fingerprint biometrics as part of MFA that can serve as a door key.

What Are Some of the Challenges of Using Biometric ID?

We may think, incorrectly, that a biometric ID is foolproof. However, while biometrics are a powerful form of authentication, using them presents businesses and other organizations with significant challenges they should consider:

  • Ethics and Privacy: More widespread biometrics do introduce questions of privacy. It bears noting that the implementation of biometric ID, like face scans in public places, raises questions about the ethical impact of the technology. However, in most enterprise contexts using biometrics for authentication in a reasonable capacity isn’t typically a moral problem.
  • False Security: Biometrics are incredibly resistant to theft or fakery—but they aren’t immune to it. There have been cases of hacker groups breaking through scans using software combinations, information stolen from databases, and fake models of physical body parts. Relying on biometrics alone as a form of authentication could create security gaps that hackers can exploit. Biometrics work best as part of an MFA system alongside another ID such as a public/private keypair, PINs, or external authenticator apps.
  • Hesitancy: Some users, including your employees, could be hesitant to provide physical information like fingerprints. Their fears are rooted in an anxiety about giving up personal attributes in ways where they don’t understand how they are used or protected. Transparency and education are vital to addressing this challenge.
  • Reusability: One of the strengths of biometrics, immutability, is also a drawback. For example, if fingerprint information is compromised in a database, you can’t just replace that information. Instead, the user will have to provide some other form of ID (even if it is an entirely different fingerprint).
  • Hygiene: Some biometrics aren’t as useful in certain situations. With COVID-19, we’ve seen how public touch scans might not be helpful in specific contexts, and facial scans might limit how we access devices while wearing masks. Careful planning and flexibility (and a robust MFA system) can mitigate this challenge.

Advanced Biometrics and Multi-Factor Authentication with 1Kosmos BlockID

Biometrics play a significant role in authentication and security. Innovations in passwordless authentication leverage fingerprint and facial scans to make user identification safe, decentralized, scalable, and touch-free.

BlockID provides a compliant, safe, and straightforward passwordless authentication system that uses advanced biometrics and secure MFA alongside decentralized identity management to unify user ID. In addition, we offer a complete system that simplifies onboarding and use with multiple levels of identification (document scans, biometrics, and others) in a single platform. No more complex software integrations; with BlockID, you have a single, powerful authentication solution that’s available wherever your people are.

BlockID includes features like the following:

  • KYC compliance: BlockID Verify is KYC compliant to support eKYC verification that meets the demands of the financial industry.
  • Strong compliance adherence: BlockID Verify meets standards like NIST 800 63-3 for Identity Assurance Level 2 (IAL2) and Authentication Assurance Level 2 (AAL2). This identity can be leveraged for passwordless authentication with a FIDO2 compliant authenticator as well.
  • Incorruptible Blockchain Technology: Store user data in protected blockchains with simple and secure API integration for your apps and IT infrastructure.
  • Zero-trust security: BlockID Verify is a cornerstone for a zero-trust framework, so you can ensure user authentication happens at every potential access point.

With these measures, you won’t have to worry about the common weaknesses of password systems like brute-force attacks or stolen passwords.

If you’re ready to learn about BlockID and how it can help you remain compliant and secure, read more about our Passwordless Enterprise solutions. Make sure you sign up for the 1Kosmos email newsletter for updates on products and events.

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Meet the Author

Mike Engle

Co-Founder and CSO

Mike is a proven information technology executive, company builder, and entrepreneur. He is an expert in information security, business development, authentication, biometric authentication, and product design/development. His career includes the head of information security at Lehman Brothers and co-founder of Bastille Networks.