The science and technology of biometrics includes everything from fingerprint reading, which has been around as a science since the 19th century, to measurements of human heat signatures, walking gait, vein patterns, DNA and of course face recognition measurement and iris or retina scanning.
While biometrics has been existing for well over 100 years in some basic form (more than a century of police fingerprint identification) modern technology has brought the science to whole new levels and expanded it to effectively include all of the above and other physical characteristics.
Complex analytical tools such as genetic decoding instruments and complex algorithmic software that pieces together thousands of tiny body characteristics have all contributed to make the modern biometric science field more expansive and interesting than it has ever been before.
Now that we know the technology is there, the real question is: how? How protectively and how intrusively will it be applied to daily life in the years to come? In this article we will analyze the latest biometric technology trends with a special focus on how these trends impact security and user experience.
Today, this is slowly starting to include biometric security protocols for sensitive access areas in many government and business facilities. The might be government agencies, major corporations or research institutes. Commonly used technologies include IRIS scanning, facial ID, smart cards with biometric data encoded into them and specialized cameras that can read different body characteristics.
Numerous development companies such as Homeland Security Corporation, Sense Technologies and Privaris amongst many others regularly work to create new solutions that are then implemented by government institutions, technology research labs and corporate offices.
The level of implementation in these sorts of settings is much more pervasive than it is in the general public sphere and for good reason; biometric identification usually represents highly robust security combined with convenience and ease of use –employees need only pass their eyes, face or fingers before a scanner to be conclusively identified.
Consumer Electronic Security
When it comes to restricting access to consumer electronic devices, biometric systems are still surprisingly absent given how easy and convenient the user/computer interface behind them is. For the most part, the digital data systems and electronics that we all use rely on passwords or passkeys as a way of protecting our sensitive information, this despite the fact that most of the computers, laptops and smart phones with which we access our digital information come equipped with cameras and could be still further equipped with other bio scanning technologies.
Some headway has been made with laptops that contain fingerprint scanning pads and mobile phones with biometric facial reader protocols or fingerprint scanners, but the use of both is still mostly uncommon. And the question becomes one of why this might be?
In part the answer lies in the inertia of password use; we have been doing it for so long that it’s hard to adapt a new technology even if it is really much simpler to use and more secure than a string of characters that can be hacked or guessed by intruders who want into our personal machines.
Another possible reason for lagging implementation is the simple fact that applying biometrics to the messy world of consumer electronics, which have to be accessible in all sorts of frayed daily situations, is often unreliable. While typing in a password is pretty much always guaranteed to work as long as you remember the characters; running your finger over a print scanner on your smart phone while the screen is wet or your finger dirty might just fail enough to annoy you as a user.
However, these types of problems are seemingly being dealt with by the major electronics producers, and the recent purchase by Apple Computer of biometrics developer Authentec for nearly $360 million is a telling sign of future developments in the iPhone and its cousins –and we all know that if Apple decides to pursue something like this, the other major industry player, Samsung, can’t be far behind down the same path.
The bottom line for consumer electronics: assuming a major manufacturer starts to enable effective and consistently reliable biometric options in their devices, people will definitely start using the technology widely.
It’s only natural that they do, since quickly running your finger across the screen or glancing into your phone, tablet or laptop camera for a moment is clearly a much more convenient security interface than typing in long passwords or using complicated two factor systems. The knowledge that nobody else can hack or copy your face, finger or eye like they can your password is an additional user bonus.
Finally we come to general public security. This is one arena in which biometrics will almost certainly become a big factor and most notably when it comes to public travel and transportation.
Whether it’s at airports, border crossings or public transportation entry points, the use of effective biometrics is a far faster, more passive and much more efficient way of quickly identifying large numbers of people without needing to stop them or have them present ID for lengthy scrutiny.
One excellent example is the NEXUS program, jointly run by the border security agencies of the United States and Canada: travelers who enroll are taken through a security background check, given special passwords that have their facial and fingerprint biometric info encoded into them and can then move between the two countries much faster than regular travelers. The popularity of this with regular business travelers can’t be understated and it’s very likely that we’ll see similar programs popping up in other high transit border regions around the world.
Biometric Technology Trends and User Experience
We have already discussed how difficult it is to balance between security and user experience in real life. Indeed, the latest biometric technology trends indicate that the two biggest factors in the user perception of biometrics are user experience and individual acceptance of the technology. For one thing, biometric technology is only now and since very recently being developed enough to truly be considered effectively usable; for much of its existence as a digital technology, it has been fraught with numerous usability problems. Of course, passwords share some of these problems even to this day, but at least they exist within the context of a well known, unobtrusive and recognized technology, making people much more tolerant of their quirks.
Also the time factor of usability has to be considered, and this is where most commonly used biometric systems still fail compared to typing in a memorized PIN number or password. This will obviously change over time as the scanning software improves but for now it has led to irritation with many people who’ve actually used biometrics on a regular basis.
As soon as usability is fully resolved in widespread commercial biometrics for our daily use devices, the next hurdle becomes one of social and individual acceptance – as studies such as this one have shown.
What becomes obvious is that, assuming a piece of biometric security technology works glitch free, its ease of use is perceived by many people to be very high, since memory of character strings is not needed and presenting a body feature into a scanning device is all that needs to be done. However, despite this, many people still seem to prefer the more old fashioned PIN access number or password out of sheer custom. And this exists even though biometric technology is generally perceived to be more secure than these older methods!
The evidence seems to show that, given enough repeat use of a quick acting and mostly glitch free biometric reading technology, most users will adjust and even prefer it because they at least do perceive these systems to be more secure than their existing passwords and access codes.