The Password is You

4cb1f2dc96040There is a lot of progress being made with biometrics and it should not be too many years until biometric techniques are the preferred way to authenticate transactions. The field has been around for many years, but the historical biometric technologies have been too expensive for widespread use. Today I report on some of the latest in biometric technology.

Behaviometrics. This is a new field that can keep track of people by their behavioral traits. For example, you can track computer users using their typing characteristics – everybody has a certain cadence and rhythm when typing and Behaviosec of Palo Alto has developed a technology that can verify that the person behind the keyboard is who they are supposed to be.

This is certainly one more security tool and is a good idea when giving people access to sensitive data. I do see a flaw in that people’s typing rhythms can change due to injury or other reasons, but this provides another general tool to know who is accessing your network.

Directed Advertising. Tesco, the world’s largest retail store chain is introducing facial recognition at gas pumps for some of its stores. The facial recognition will determine who you are (if you are a regular customer) or classify you by sex and age and then will display ads aimed at you. There are also billboards in Japan that change message depending on who is walking past. These are early steps in using biometrics to pinpoint advertising aimed directly at specific customers.

Facial Recognition for Payments. China will be broadly implementing a facial recognition system that will become the preferred method for authorizing payments at stores and other places. This should be deployed during 2015 and the goal is that a person’s face becomes their PIN. Validation is supposed to be nearly instantaneous and will speed up payments while also reducing fraud.

Retina Scanning App. Very high-end security systems have used retina scans for many years. But EyeVerify of Kansas City, a leader in this field has found a way to use a smartphone to verify a user by quick eye scan. This can be a way to unlock your phone, but the firm is working towards making this a way for banks to verify customers and transactions.

Pre-Crime Biometrics. The Israeli firm BioCatch uses a technology that builds a profile of users to identify questionable behavior. They build a database of where you shop, what you buy, etc. to be able to spot when somebody is doing something unusual. Banks have been doing this to some extent for years but this new technology develops a far more detailed profile than banks have used in the past to spot fraud.

Fingerprint Verification. Apple introduced fingerprint verification in 2013 to allow users to use lock or unlock the phone or sensitive content. Samsung is now working with PayPal to introduce similar technology in 25 countries to verify payment transactions.

India going Biometric. A large portion of India’s population has been undocumented in that there is no equivalent there of a social security number. So the country has launched a program and has gathered fingerprints, retina scans and photographs of 500 million of its citizens in order to develop an easier way for people to be identified. They are working towards having biometrics be the normal way to identify people and are also going to make the database available to merchants for purchase verification.

Summary. One has to wonder if the methods being used in Chana and India, for example, would fly in the West. For instance, while the Chinese systems of identifying everybody by facial recognition can make it easier there for people to buy things, it also gives the government a way to closely track where everybody goes in public. Every cash register becomes a tool for the state to track people’s movements and one has to wonder if most of the world is ready for that level of surveillance.

Certainly there is a lot of room for improvement in security and Americans in recent polls have said that identity theft is one of their largest concerns. So one can imagine that technologies like using fingerprints on a smartphone app might be a good way to add more security for purchases.

I know I would not be comfortable with directed ads where a store flashes ads meant specifically for me. We know that Google and others have built detailed databases about us, but the idea of having that shoved in your face when these databases are matched to facial recognition feels like going too far. I would probably avoid a store that flashed an ad aimed directly at me. But everybody is different and I suspect my wife would love stores to present her with specials as she shopped. This is already being done today to some extent using your cellphone’s ID and facial recognition expands this to everybody and just not those using smartphones.

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