What is Biometric Authentication?

Many tech companies are creating easier-to-use alternatives to traditional username and passwords. Apple’s "Face ID" which uses biometric authentication to unlock your phone is probably the most widely used of these innovations at present.  Biometric authentication is a security process that verifies your identity based on your unique biological characteristics.  Here are some examples of biometric authentication that could increasingly replace passwords in the coming years.

  • Voice Identification: Vocal recognition technologies measure vocal characteristics to distinguish between individuals. Like facial scanners, they combine several data points to create a profile or voiceprint. Voice identification technologies focus on measuring and examining a speaker’s mouth and throat for the formation of shapes and sounds. This process avoids the security failures that could be caused by attempts to imitate a voice, or by conditions such as sickness that might change the sound of a voice. The words a user speaks to access a voice-protected device may also be standardized, serving as a sort of password and making the comparison of voiceprints easier, as well as stopping attempts to bypass voice identification, such as recording an authorized user saying something unrelated.   
  • Eye Scanners: Several types of eye scanners are now commercially available, including iris recognition and retina scanners. Retina scanners work by projecting a bright light into the eye, making blood vessel patterns visible.  These patterns can then be read and compared to approved patterns saved in a database. Iris scanners operate similarly by looking for unique patterns in the colored ring around the pupil. Both types of eye scanners are useful as quick, hands-free verification options, but can still sometimes produce inaccuracies if individuals wear contact lenses.   
  • Fingerprint scanners: These are the digital version of old-fashioned paper & ink fingerprinting.  Fingerprint scanners rely on recording the unique patterns of swirls and ridges that make up an individual’s fingerprints.   
  • Facial recognition technology relies on creating what are called faceprints.  This is done by matching dozens of different measurements from an approved face to the face of a user trying to gain access.  Like fingerprint scanners, if enough measurements from a user’s face match the approved faceprint, access is granted. Facial recognition has recently been added to many smart phones, though it can be inconsistent when viewed from different angles, or when distinguishing between people who look alike, such as close relatives.  

Although biometric authentication technology has its flaws, it offers more security and a better user experience than traditional usernames and passwords.  Don’t be surprised if you see these technologies popping up more and more in your everyday life.