What Is Biometrics? Different Types of Biometrics Explained

Robert MacDonald

Passwords are becoming a thing of the past with biometrics taking over. But what does this mean for security, and what types of biometrics can be used?

What are examples of biometrics? Some examples of biometrics are:

  • Fingerprint Scan
  • Facial Recognition
  • Iris Scan
  • Voice Recognition

What Is Biometrics?

Biometrics is the scanning and analysis of physical traits for use as a method of authentication or authorization. The traits used for biometric authentication are considered unique and generally immutable for the process of identity verification and provide heightened security as compared to passwords or PINs.

Biometrics are often part of a more secure approach to authentication for a few reasons, namely that biometrics:

  • Are unique, meaning that information scanned for authentication (like a fingerprint or facial scan) is suitably distinct from anyone else such that the system will not accidentally confuse two different users.
  • Are personal, meaning that they make stealing and using the information in a hack more difficult, if not impossible. It’s much harder to fake a facial scan than to steal and use a password.
  • Are immutable, meaning that, outside of physical damage or temporary changes due to circumstance, they can be safely used for other platforms and applications.

Because of these advantages, biometrics are often used as the anchor for multi-factor authentication (MFA) or passwordless authentication purposes.

Broadly speaking, there are three primary types of biometrics:

  • Biological: These biometrics are, as the name suggests, tied to immutable aspects of your biology. These traits include DNA, blood samples, or hair samples. The most expensive and invasive form of biometrics, these are often reserved for the highest levels of security.
  • Morphological: These are our outward physical traits, representing different body parts. Morphological traits include fingerprints, facial structure, or iris structure. Morphological traits are, for the time being, the sweet spot in terms of usability (uniqueness and security) and availability (through fingerprint scanners or cameras).
  • Behavioral: These biometrics are tied to patterns of behavior that we often overlook, including patterns in typing, handwriting, or gait. While these are increasingly becoming viable as a biometric security measure, some experts argue that they are easier to spoof than other approaches.

What Are Some Different Types of Biometrics?

Using the multitude of components in the human body, engineers and scientists have worked out several types of useful biometric tools to use for identity verification and authentication. However, a select few of these have percolated into general use in enterprise or consumer contexts. Often, popularity and adoption are tied to available technology and the viability of the biometric in question.

All biometrics have advantages and disadvantages of their own. However, all biometrics have specific benefits that set them apart from other forms of identification, including

  • Security: Common attacks, like phishing and social engineering, rely on the inherent weakness of passwords–namely, that they do not require the user to be physically present at the point of authentication. A biometric, however, requires physical presence.
  • Ease: Passwords require memorization, and dozens of passwords tempt users to create simple, weak, or reused passwords across their accounts–a significant security hole. Biometrics avoids this issue by making system access as easy as a face or fingerprint scan.
  • Compliance: Most higher-level compliance standards (HIPAA, PCI DSS 4.0, most government regulations) require MFA in some capacity. Biometrics are generally the go-to for these requirements.

Some common biometrics currently on the market include:

Fingerprint Scans

We’ve all seen fingerprint scans, if not from our immediate use, then from public perception in media round police and investigations. Because of their uniqueness, investigators have used fingerprint records to catalog and identify criminals for decades. Now, many digital devices include a fingerprint scanner to authenticate users.

Some advantages of fingerprint authentication include:

  • Uniqueness: Fingerprints are unique to individuals. As such, they can serve as a unique identifier for an individual that someone can’t just pick up and break into a device or account.
  • Ease of Deployment: Scanning technology is remarkably common. While many manufacturers have started moving to face scanners, fingerprint scanners are still a widespread technology on laptops and mobile devices.
  • Familiar to Users: People understand how fingerprint scans work and have no problem quickly adopting and adapting to the technology.

There are some drawbacks to fingerprint scans as well:

  • Fingerprint Damage: If the fingerprints are damaged by heat or other accidents, they may not work for authentication. This means the user can’t simply replace their fingerprint data; they would need another biometric.
  • Easier to Replicate: While fingerprints are very hard to spoof, it isn’t impossible. Spoofing a fingerprint doesn’t require a camera or video spoof, but just a fake fingerprint. These scans can also be taken from a user when they sleep.

Iris Scans

Iris makeup, like a fingerprint, is unique to the individual and is suitable for security purposes. However, iris scans require more advanced camera technology and can be more secure than fingerprints, but they also require ideal conditions to work.

Some of the advantages of iris biometrics include:

  • Uniqueness: Iris structure, taken from the veins and structure of the iris itself, is as unique, if not more so, than fingerprints. These make iris scans incredibly unique.
  • Resilience: The iris is contained within the eye, which is highly unlikely to change via illness or damaging accidents.

There are also some limitations to iris scans:

  • Harder to Deploy: The camera analyzing technology for iris identification isn’t as common as fingerprint scanning. Such biometrics require a fine-tuned set of sensors that aren’t included in all camera setups.
  • Harder to Use: Because iris scanning requires fine-grained technology, it’s sometimes harder to get it to work correctly(i.e., in low-light conditions).

Facial Recognition

Facial recognition is one of the up-and-coming biometrics on the market, increasingly found in smartphones and laptops equipped with cameras. This biometric involves reading the geometry of your face, including metrics like the distance between your eyes, the distance between ears, and the shape of the face from chin to forehead.

Some key benefits of facial recognition include:

  • Easy to Deploy: Facial biometrics aren’t as fine-tuned as iris scans, which means they are secure but not as finicky. The most modern, camera-equipped device easily supports facial scans.
  • Effective and Unique: Facial geometry is a unique and distinguished biometric. Since these cans use several dozen measurement points, it’s highly unlikely that there will be two people with the same facial structure.

There are also some drawbacks to the technology:

  • Hard to Use with Accessories: As we learned in the pandemic, facial recognition doesn’t play well with masks, and many users found themselves unable to lock their phones with biometrics. Some adaptations have been made to account for specific accessories (namely, masks), but it’s still an issue.
  • Changes in Facial Features Can Hinder Use: Extreme changes, like drastic changes in weight, plastic surgery, or injuries, can change the shape of the face and render facial recognition inaccurate.

Voice Recognition

Voice recognition was not, for a long time, considered a strong enough biometric security method. Spoofing devices, as they became more sophisticated, could simply modulate the sound of a voice to the extent that it could pass for another person. However, modern advances in analytics and AI have led voice recognition to be much, much more accurate, so much so that some financial institutions use it for security.

Some of the benefits of voice recognition include:

  • Easy to Deploy: Almost every digital device has a microphone, which means including voice recognition in an operating system or attached software is trivial at worst. Furthermore, advances in recognition have tied voice to AI assistants, so linking voice recognition to many different apps or services is relatively easy.
  • Easy to Use: Because voice recognition is so ubiquitous, it can be used as a secure way to protect system access in several ways. This includes the use of passphrases or app-specific authentication.

Unsurprisingly, voice recognition also has some drawbacks:

  • Can’t Use in Noisy Spaces: It can be hard to pull off successful voice authentication in a noisy warehouse, coffee shop, or office space–problems that visual authentication methods do not have.
  • Illness Can Hinder Use: If the user is suffering from a bronchial or lung-based illness like allergies or a cold, it can modify their voice enough to make voice recognition hard or impossible.

Use Strong, Compliant Biometrics with 1Kosmos

Biometrics, for the most part, are secure. They aren’t foolproof, however, and more ingenious hackers are finding ways to undermine biometric authentication daily.

This fact is why more stringent security compliance requirements, including those for government authentication, require additional measures to ensure full and accurate identity verification.

1Kosmos provides advanced biometric and password authentication that includes IAL2-compliant technology, anti-spoofing measures, and liveness testing capabilities to ensure that authenticated users are who they say they are.

With 1Kosmos BlockID, you get:

  • SIM Binding: The BlockID application uses SMS verification, identity proofing, and SIM card authentication to create solid, robust, and secure device authentication from any employee’s phone.
  • Identity-Based Authentication: We push biometrics and authentication into a new “who you are” paradigm. BlockID uses biometrics to identify individuals, not devices, through credential triangulation and identity verification.
  • Cloud-Native Architecture: Flexible and scalable cloud architecture makes it simple to build applications using our standard API and SDK.
  • Identity Proofing: BlockID verifies identity anywhere, anytime and on any device with over 99% accuracy.
  • Privacy by Design: Embedding privacy into the design of our ecosystem is a core principle of 1Kosmos. We protect personally identifiable information in a distributed identity architecture and the encrypted data is only accessible by the user.
  • Private and Permissioned Blockchain: 1Kosmos protects personally identifiable information in a private and permissioned blockchain, encrypts digital identities, and is only accessible by the user. The distributed properties ensure that there are no databases to breach or honeypots for hackers to target.
  • Interoperability: BlockID can readily integrate with existing infrastructure through its 50+ out-of-the-box integrations or via API/SDK.

Try 1Kosmos biometric capabilities–easily demo our app experience in 3 steps.

A Customer First Approach to Identity Based Authentication
Read More

Expert Insights in Your Inbox

Subscribe to the blog
Meet the Author

Robert MacDonald

Vice President of Product Marketing

Robert is the Vice President of Product Marketing at 1Kosmos. He is a highly influential senior global marketer with more than 15 years of marketing experience in B2B and B2C software in the biometric authentication space. Prior to 1Kosmos, Rob managed product strategy and vision for the Identity and Access Management portfolio at Micro Focus, leading a team of product marketers to drive sales and support the channel. Earlier in his career he set the foundation for content planning, sales enablement and GTM activities for ForgeRock. He has also held senior marketing positions at Entrust, Dell, Quest and Corel Corporation.