When you’re checking in at the airport, unlocking your phone, or getting fingerprinted for a new ID card, you’ve likely shared your biometrics with different organizations.
Even though using biometric technology in authentication is more advanced than using our good old passwords, is it safer, or are we ignorant of its downsides?
Let’s see what biometrics are and the pros and cons of using them to authenticate our identity.
How do biometrics work?
According to ExpressVPN’s piece of research, every person has a unique set of biological identifiers commonly used for authentication and identification. Most widely used biometrics include fingerprints, eye and face scans, and voice recognition. A biometric scanner matches your features against the saved database to approve your access to the account or system.
Advantages of using biometric authentication
Biometric technology is faster and more convenient
Considering it takes only a few seconds to run someone’s face or a fingerprint scan through a biometric reader, biometric authentication is shown to be an efficient method of verifying identities in places with high concentrations of people, like airports. Similarly, virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri rely on voice recognition technology to create unique profiles for each user and deliver more personalized search results based on their voice characteristics.
Biometrics have a higher level of authenticity
Biometrics is the most individualized authentication method used today. For instance, fingerprints have around 85 points of minutiae used to distinguish people. The FBI concluded that the highest number of minutiae points two persons could have in common is six. Furthermore, the human voice has equally unique characteristics like tone, pitch, accent, and cadence. The technology can verify one’s identity with the highest accuracy.
Biometrics is much harder to steal
The Workplace Password Malpractice Report for 2021 showed that 57% of employees save their passwords on sticky notes, and 62% say they share them via texts and emails. These practices make your credentials significantly more vulnerable to loss and theft. On the other hand, biometric information is almost impossible to steal or lose. Even if an unauthorized party gets access to your biometric data, most up-to-date biometric readers rely on the “liveness factor” when scanning your biometrics to prevent potential data misuse. For instance, fingerprint readers nowadays scan the living tissue below the skin’s surface to verify the fingerprint is real, while retina scans read the blood flow within your eye.
Risks of biometrics
If you’re not reading the fine print before signing up for services, you may have unknowingly permitted sharing your data with unfamiliar third parties to use it for purposes you are not aware of. Big tech companies behind our frequently used devices often use biometrics to track our behavior, determine our buying habits, and target us with personalized ads. What’s more, governments can use biometrics, especially facial recognition data, to track our movements and actions.
The risk of false identification
The US National Institute of Standards and Technology warned that racially biased algorithms are 10 to 100 times more likely to falsely identify African-Americans and Asians than Caucasians. The same applies to women and younger people. Misidentification has already led to numerous wrongful arrests and convictions. If we don’t fix the discrepancy in recognizing people from different races, people won’t feel safe using them.
Once compromised, compromised forever
Even though we’re developing more sophisticated biometric readers that are capable of detecting fraudulent fingerprints and retina scans based on the “liveness principle,” compromised biometrics are still a source of concern. Passwords may be easier to lose, but they’re changeable, meaning that if you suspect any unauthorized activity on your account, you can change your credentials in a matter of minutes. On the other hand, biometrics are unique and can’t be altered.
The future of biometrics
Despite the ethical aspect of biometric authentication still being complex, most people are more willing to implement biometrics in their daily lives. They like the convenience of biometric technology and are less concerned about potential security and privacy issues that may arise in the future. However, the power we give to the technology we use today will determine our future and the scope of our freedom. While we should embrace the beneficial aspects of biometrics and strive to advance them even further, we should always bear in mind the potential risks this technology may pose to our freedom and privacy.