When the majority of people think of the word ‘biometrics’, most probably the first association that will come to mind is related to some sort of security process at the airport related to authority or some kind of passport control. Fewer people will associate that with identification and passports, for example, and much fewer with the theme of cybersecurity. Why biometrics and cybersecurity, though? Well, biometrics and cybersecurity have a close bond in the sense that they complement each other. Several organizations, governments, institutions, and authorities are either starting to deploy or have already deployed biometrics. Biometrics is quite unlike other forms of identification and authentication, in that the extra access steps between an individual’s data record and the individual are removed which makes it a very strong case for the fight against fraud and theft. Because biometrics is so directly and closely associated with the individual, biometrics is an excellent resolution to the issue of identification, access, passage control, and human data enrollment. Not only is biometric authentication useful in the fight against identity fraud such as multiple identity fraud, but is also an extremely important process in that it is safe to use for purposes other than just identifying humans. This means that biometric access provides a tough barrier against cybercriminals (or cyber attackers) in safeguarding data, among many other advantages which we will cover in the next sections.
What is Biometrics?
Biometrics is a word combination of ‘biological’ and ‘metric’ -measurement. So, biometrics are biological measurements or metrics, as in physical characteristics, that are used to identify and categorize individuals. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines biometric authentication (biometry) as the following; “the measurement and analysis of unique physical or behavioral characteristics (such as fingerprint or voice patterns) especially as a means of verifying personal identity”.
What is Cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity (sometimes known as cybersec) refers to the defense of systems, networks, applications, and any connected device from cyberthreats (online threats such as cybercrime). In the general sense, cybersecurity exists to protect ‘cyber assets’ which are comprised of; systems, networks, information, programs, and other cyber assets. Anything from an antivirus, to a firewall, SSL, or Virtual Private Network is considered a cybersecurity solution.
Better Cybersecurity Through Biometrics
Today, more than half of the world economy relies on the internet (sometimes known as cyberspace). Digital operations and digital data are at the core of modern business, and this trend is growing at a dizzying pace. The heavy reliance on e.g cloud storage systems and/or digital financial transactions, to mention only a couple of examples, is opening the door to new vulnerabilities and a plethora of potential cyber threats. Cyber threats are not only limited to external actors either, but an internal threat in an organization may be just as destructive if an employee decides to deliberately (or from profit) disrupt, steal or destroy company data/assets.
Biometry, or biometric recognition, has strong ties with cybersecurity in that;
- It is a closed, robust, and secure process which guards against most cyber attacks
- It is widely accessible, widely used, and can hold a lot of information safely
- It is an accurate, fast process
- It is also socially acceptable to the general public
Biometry has appeared as a result of a more sophisticated and safer approach to access control and data security. Classic systems are no longer sufficient, as most passwords can be hacked with enough time given. Biometry does not use passwords, tokens, or any classical form of identification/access requirement. It uses biological identification as the sole entry point, reducing many potential vulnerable endpoints where cybercrime can leak through. Theft of biometric data is difficult, but if a cybercriminal would succeed the process is so one-sided that if a biometric pattern is compromised it cannot be changed back to its original state. A cybercriminal ‘spoofing’ biometric data could mean that he/she could use e.g someone’s high-resolution face photo indefinitely. Cybercriminals can modify biometric templates, which is a cybersecurity threat. They can also do this with 3D rendered models.
Today, we already see several biometry systems in use in popular widely used products such as those from Apple. Facial recognition, iris scans, and fingerprint scanners are now commonplace in even the budget line of smartphones out there. Banks, for example, use advanced voice recognition which is an advanced form of biometric authentication. In the automotive industry, biometric sensors are being developed that will enhance security and make sure that the person driving the car is the correct person at all times. However, there are also several problems regarding cyber threats to biometric systems such as;
- Facial recognition and fingerprint biometrics can still be breached by cybercriminals, which results in the ability to fake or steal that data
- Large organizations that hold large amounts of sensitive personal biometric data are at risk of a breach, in which case the biometric data can be stolen by cybercriminals and used for fraud, blackmail, and other purposes
Better and newer technologies always bring better security against cybercrime by improving the cybersecurity infrastructure. What biometry does is throw a cog in the cybercriminals wheel, in that the cybercriminal needs to figure out ways to fake a biometric scan to penetrate a network.
Biometrics has three basic principles;
Verification is the first tunnel, where a user’s biometric data is checked against the data that is already stored. Identification counter checks if the data exists at all in the database, and finally screening determines whether there is a task assigned to certain data (or a person’s profile for instance) after which integration takes place. Now, what are the advantages and disadvantages of using biometrics systems?
- Improvement in cybersecurity in the secure storage of data
- Reduction of operational prices
- Removal of easily forgettable passwords
- Several future applications in cybersecurity
- Addressing increased concerns surrounding privacy
The disadvantages are;
- The potential for an advanced cybercriminal to trick a biometric system with mimicry
- The fact that this one-stop process cannot be reversed
- Biometrics accuracy is not always 100% accurate
- The initial costs associated with installing a biometric system
The Future of Biometrics
In the future, we should see biometric technology address overhanging privacy issues that plague data security and data integrity. We should also see biometrics proliferate in the sense that it will replace others systems for access to business information, usage in PINs and passcodes. We will see a lot more behavioral biometrics data being collected and used by artificial intelligence systems facilitated by big data, sensors and CCTV. In China, for example, facial recognition systems are everywhere and data is constantly being collected. Protecting biometric data requires excellent cybersecurity, meaning that encryption, multi-layered access protocols and requirements like additional unique morphological biometric features are set as standard. Biometrics will soon replace two-factor and multi-factor authentication, which will be especially important for IoT or Internet-of-Things devices. The only way to create the strongest possible cybersecurity for a future filled with disruptive cybercrime is through multi-layered biometric authentication processes. These processes will continue to develop and expand across several platforms, devices, and systems as we race towards an e-future while becoming the preferred path for businesses, governments and authorities.
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