What Is Behavioral Biometric Authentication?

Javed Shah

What are behavioral biometrics? Behavioral biometrics analyzes a user’s physical movements and patterns while partaking in certain activities like typing, walking or even how much pressure is used while interacting with technology.

Behavioral biometrics measures and analyzes unique human traits such as physical movements and patterns while also partaking in certain activities like typing, walking or even how much pressure is used while interacting with technology. Some have termed it a “sister science” to physical biometrics, which measures physical traits like fingerprints. I should know because I began my identity journey writing operating systems for Payflex smartcard readers and developing fingerprint hashing schemes for secure storage and fast recall.
But two decades and some change later, the science of behavioral biometrics has garnered the full attention of the identity management industry. Security vulnerabilities, transaction fraud, forgery, identity theft have left all market sectors scrambling to find a “proper” threat detection solution.

Why Are Biometrics Important to Authentication?

Almost all modern cybersecurity frameworks and regulations include, in some form, a call to implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) to strengthen identity verification and system access. MFA, as part of a broader Identity and Access Management (IAM) strategy, heightens security around authentication because it requires more from users than just a fragile and stealable password.

MFA schemas will typically require users to provide at least two forms of identification from different categories of authentication:

  • Knowledge: Something that the user knows or has memorized, such as a password, PIN, or passphrase associated with a question.
  • Ownership: Something that the user owns and should hold possession of. This can include sending a One-Time Password (OTP) to the user’s phone or email address or asking for an OTP from the user’s linked password authentication app.
  • Inherence: Something the user is. This is the category of biometrics of all types.

With the increasing popularity of devices, including biometric scanners (cameras and fingerprint scanners being the most common), biometrics has become a default form of MFA and passwords.

What Are Behavioral Biometrics?

Biometrics can short-circuit attempted attacks, mainly phishing hacks, and provide a solid level of security for consumers and enterprises supporting apps and network access for their employees.

Biometrics, as a category, isn’t monolithic. Different types of biometrics refer to different parts of human physiology, addressing their inherent usefulness as an identity verification medium.

The primary categories of biometrics are:

  • Biological: Traits that are part of human physiology, intractable and usually require some sort of invasive collection method. This can include blood samples and DNA signatures.
  • Morphological: Visible traits that are unique and relatively easy to check for, even if they are somewhat vulnerable to damage. These include facial recognition, fingerprint scans, and iris scans.
  • Behavioral: Patterns of behavior we build over time, often unconsciously, as part of our daily lives. Can include voice patterns, handwriting styles, and gait patterns.

Each of these particular biometrics support authentication to some degree.

Biometrics like DNA signatures are perhaps the most unique and, thus, the most secure, even though they are an extreme way to guarantee security outside the most high-stakes environments.

Morphological traits are the most common forms of biometric authentication, often coupled with biometric passwords for MFA or passwordless authentication systems.

Behavioral is a rising conversation in the field. As advances in AI and machine learning fuel accurate interpretations of behaviors beyond what was thought possible, very common traits can be used to analyze a user’s activity and determine authentication and authorization.

What Are Different Forms of Behavioral Biometrics?

Throughout the 20th century, experts sought ways to nail down behavioral characteristics that could prove helpful in authentication or identity verification. However, most of these experts never really knew how deep such authentication efforts could go in using esoteric mannerisms as unique markers for individuals.

Some of the more exciting forms of behavioral biometrics used today include:

Body Movement

Modern machines have become adept at using physical movements to determine an individual’s identity. Many people aren’t aware that we all have fairly unique shapes and movement patterns across dozens of measurement points. Modern AI can use posture and weight distribution or gait and walking patterns to determine if someone is who they say they are.

Gesture Recognition

Researchers have discovered that people often do the smallest things with specific patterns and cadences. Typing on a keyboard, tapping on a screen, moving a mouse cursor, and more all fall under this category.

Handwriting Recognition

Unsurprisingly, however, is using handwriting to identify someone. Handwriting experts have been around forever, but handwriting forgers have been around for just as long. An authentication system powered by AI can identify genuine and fake handwriting far beyond the capacity of human investigators.

User Behavior

This category may not seem like a biometric. Still, anti-fraud experts have been using browsing and shopping patterns from online consumers to power machine learning algorithms that can pick up on suspicious behavior that could potentially flag theft. While these behaviors are all in the digital world, they are considered biometrics precisely because they are tied to patterns that most don’t even know we display.

What Are the Benefits of Behavioral Biometrics?

Biometrics are the foundation of modern authentication because they are reliable, secure, and hard to fake. Of course, they aren’t the perfect technology, but they come with several crucial benefits that security experts don’t find elsewhere.

Some benefits of behavioral biometrics include:

  • Passive Technology: Behavioral biometrics are inherently passive, requiring system observation rather than directed input from the user. Rather than speaking into a microphone or handing over their fingerprint verification data, users simply do what they do–the more relaxed and normal, the better.
  • Continuous Authentication: Continuous authentication is a relatively new and complex practice, but one with several critical benefits. Rather than rely on a single point of authentication (or several points of authorization), a device can monitor the user and continuously determine whether the same user is present.

This avoids complicated authentication systems while providing liveness testing that prevents, for example, someone else from using a workstation or device without authorization.

  • Fraud Detection: Behavioral biometrics are critical to massive anti-fraud efforts. Machine learning can help observe shoppers online to see how they engage with a digital storefront, what kind of information they provide, and how they interact with sensitive areas of their accounts.

Furthermore, these anti-fraud efforts are critical for modern chargeback fraud prevention, where people buy items, report stolen cards, and have their bank reverse charges.

  • Works With Other Biometrics: Because these biometrics are primarily passive, they work rather well with other forms of biometrics. For example, a user may provide iris biometrics to access a sensitive workstation equipped with monitoring tools covering typing behaviors to ensure that no one else takes over if the original, authorized individual walks away.

Things to Watch out for with Behavioral Biometrics

First, it is important to note that not all types of behavioral biometrics would be applicable to all use cases. Measuring and iterating on cost of deployment, accuracy and performance, false acceptance and false rejection rates will remain key items to monitor.
Second, not all forms of behavioral biometrics are created equal in their abilities to prevent fraud. Voice biometrics, for example, is relatively easier to spoof and is subject to replay risks. Voice is also subject to enrollment risks when there is background noise to deal with, for example.

Utilize Biometrics and Advanced Identity Assurance with 1Kosmos

By using different forms of biometrics, organizations can close security gaps leveraged by hackers, including those associated with passwords or other forms of authentication.

But biometrics isn’t necessarily enough, and many solutions rely too heavily on single biometrics within an MFA approach to protect their data. 1Kosmos relies on advanced biometrics coupled with powerful passwordless protection, a permissionless blockchain identity management system, and NIST-compliant identity proofing and liveness testing capabilities.

With 1Kosmos, you can rely on the following features:

  • 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 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.

Integration: 1Kosmos can ingest behavioral and peripheral risk signals. For example, we have partnered with organizations like Behaviosec and RSA to track user behavior (desktop, mobile and environmental factors). This capability will detect attacks, including session hijacking or credential loss on an access attempt. This combination of technologies improves your overall security posture as you can detect potentially fraudulent activities in real-time and step-up authentication if something out of the band is noted with the most negligible impact on the user.

To learn more about how 1Kosmos uses biometrics as part of our advanced authentication system, demo our app experience in 3 easy steps.

A Customer First Approach to Identity Based Authentication
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Meet the Author

Javed Shah

Former Senior Vice President Of Product Management

Javed has spent his entire twenty year career designing and building blockchain and identity management solutions. He has led large customer facing pre-sales teams, led product management for identity management platforms like the ForgeRock Identity Platform and the ForgeRock Identity Cloud. Javed has an MBA from UC Berkeley.