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The Boom in Biometrics

Biometric identification is becoming a popular way to validate identity. Here are the types of biometrics and how they impact digital security.
December 19, 2023

The contact center supervisor arrives for her shift, first stopping at the door to the building to press her palm to the sensor. Once inside, she makes her way to her office, logging in on her laptop by staring at the camera and touching her fingertip to the pad. She has a few minutes before business starts, so she checks her staff’s attendance and timesheets, accessible via a combination of a password and fingerprint swipe. Soon, customer calls start rolling in, each authenticated before agents pick them up by customers’ own mobile devices, using facial, iris and fingerprint scans.

Every access point and every interaction in the example above is fully authenticated and verified, resulting in faster processes, less hassle and better security. At the heart of all of them is biometrics — using people’s unique characteristics to positively identify and authenticate them for whatever process or service they are attempting to access. Unlike other authentication methods, biometrics can provide bona fide proof of identity.

While momentum has been building for years, especially for financial transactions, many believe that 2022 is the year biometrics will go mainstream. According to KPMG, 38% of companies have increased their investment by as much as 39% compared with the previous year and 16% have increased spending on biometrics by 40% or more.

There are plenty of good reasons why biometrics are on the upswing in so many industries. Customers are more accepting of biometrics than ever, thanks to their popularity in mobile devices and increased use driven by COVID-19. A significant escalation in cyber crime and fraud also means more people are looking for new ways to keep devices and information secure.

Biometrics and digital security 

More than 60% of companies in the Americas experienced a data breach or cyber incident in 2021. The average cost of a data breach is now $4.24 million per incident. Research also shows that companies that have experienced a breach underperform the market by more than 15% even three years later. According to a study from Verizon, passwords account for the vast majority of data breaches, so replacing them with more foolproof authentication methods can help fight cyber crime. Biometrics are an effective deterrent, because everybody’s features are unique. Combining biometrics with other security technologies like a PIN adds an extra layer of protection.

In addition to boosting security, companies now consider biometrics something of a force multiplier when it comes to revenue. Because biometric authentication can speed up transactions, companies can experience the opportunity to facilitate more transactions, leading to higher revenues.

Plus, customers seem to actually prefer it. A recent study from Visa found that 86% of U.S. consumers were interested in using biometrics to verify digital identity or make payments. That’s probably especially true of digital natives. These younger consumers have grown up expecting and demanding efficiency and convenience, and technology is part of that package.

Types of biometrics

Depending on preference and application, there are plenty of different types of biometrics to consider, including:

  • Facial recognition. This is one of the most popular options. Customers are already familiar with it from their mobile devices, and it’s passive and non-intrusive. Retailers, for example, can use facial recognition to identify big spenders or matches in their shoplifter database. Airlines are already big users. American Airlines now has a biometric facial recognition program that eliminates the need for physical boarding passes and streamlines the boarding process. By matching the facial scans with those in the U.S. Customs database, the airline also can improve security. Even more advanced is live face recognition, used by large venues to identify specific faces in crowds.
  • Fingerprint and palm vein verification. Fingerprint biometrics use sensitive cameras to capture thumbprints, while palm vein technology uses infrared sensors to identify people’s vein patterns, comparing them to patterns in a database. Disney is one of the biggest users of fingerprint biometrics, and has been since 2013. At the entry gates of Disneyland and Walt Disney World, guests scan their entry tickets and submit fingerprints to confirm identification.
  • Voice and passive voice recognition. All types of companies now use voice recognition, where people can use their voice to log into accounts. Some use voice biometrics to establish voice signatures. Passive voice biometrics is slightly different; while it also requires users providing a sample of their voiceprint, it can be done during a regular conversation.
  • Iris detection. Iris scans simply require participants to stare at a device for a few seconds. While not as popular as other methods, it is considered to be the most accurate form of biometrics. . Another benefit is that it doesn’t require exposing the entire face, which has made it increasingly popular in environments where masks or other personal protective equipment are required, such as healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Behavioral biometrics. While physical biometrics are most typical, especially as a first line of identification, some companies are also adding behavioral biometrics. One common example is the website captcha, which requires users to perform a behavior (add two numbers or identify the fire hydrant, for example) to access another web page. Other examples of behavioral biometrics include monitoring typing speed, mouse or mobile movements, gestures and gait analysis.
  • DNA biometrics. Admittedly, this is still outside the scope of possibility for many businesses today, but it’s making headway. Using DNA for identity verification is common today in fields like paternity testing, exoneration of innocent suspects and genealogy, but the potential is almost limitless.

While using one form of biometrics can yield great benefits, experts suggest employing two methods of authentication. Two-factor authentication, also called two-step verification, typically calls for two of these three: something you know (a password or PIN), something you have (a smart card or drivers’ license) and something you are (some form of biometrics).

New ways to interact 

Financial services, retail, law enforcement, healthcare, government, travel — every industry today is looking for ways to improve customer service, remain secure and boost the bottom line. Biometrics can go a long way toward accomplishing all of those goals while positioning businesses as tech-savvy and responsive to customer needs.

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