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Becoming your own password

Imagine never again having to waste time creating 'secure', 'memorable' passwords.

Read time 3min 50sec
Teryl Schroenn, Accsys, says it's very difficult to manipulate fingerprint algorithms.
Teryl Schroenn, Accsys, says it's very difficult to manipulate fingerprint algorithms.

Biometric technology may have its breakthrough in 2013. Industry analysts have predicted that this will be the year in which we move closer to a time when easily forgettable and not terribly secure passwords and PIN codes will fade into oblivion as each of us, because of our individual makeup, becomes our own password.

Biometric authentication has been identified as one of the top investable technology trends of the year because consumers and enterprises are demanding that security be absolutely guaranteed. The ineffectiveness of pesky passwords is well documented, which is why it's no surprise that biometric technology, which uses the uniqueness of your face, eyes, voice, fingerprints, palms and DNA to verify identity, is growing fast.

In 2012, Gartner predicted that biometrics would enter its prime within two years, not surprising given how much time developers have been spending on improving the accuracy of biometric authentication. In SA, it's already being integrated into several environments.

Teryl Schroenn, CEO of access control and biometrics company Accsys, says there's been a definite increase in the uptake of biometric technology.

"Traditional systems, including cards, are still in use, but there's a shift in the market towards biometrics, with fingerprint technology being the most popular," says Schroenn. "The reason for this growth is because the technology is cost-effective, accurate and not easily compromised. Fingerprint algorithms can be manipulated but it's extremely difficult. Fingerprints are still considered the most accurate way to identify people. Many thought palm technology would make an impact, but we're not seeing that as a noticeable trend in South Africa."

The global market for fingerprint biometrics is projected to reach $10 billion by 2018, according to research by Global Information.

Jeremy Howlett, an SAP consultant at Dataflo, says biometrics is about who you are rather than what you have (tokens, ID cards) or what you know (passwords and PINs). "Validating who you are has several advantages over other systems. It's more difficult to fake fingerprints than access cards or tokens. Fingerprint patterns cannot be guessed as is the case with PINs or passwords and, unlike access cards and tokens, they can't be lost or forgotten."

Image and voice advantages

By 2018, the global market for face and voice biometrics is projected to reach $2.9 billion, says Global Information.
Unlike other technologies such as vein pattern scanning, fingerprint identification or hand geometry, all of which require the people being identified to make some contact with the reader or system, facial and voice recognition technologies can establish an individual's identity without any established contact between the person and the system.
They do this just by capturing image or voice samples of the person with the help of cameras and voice recorders. The non-intrusive features of these technologies give them an edge over other biometric modalities.
Thanks to several success stories from government and the private sector, face and voice biometric technologies are now widely accepted in the field of information security. Voice biometrics is especially poised to succeed in this space.

Howlett says biometric readers are becoming popular with local companies because they quickly and accurately capture attendance, control access and provide an unquestionable audit trail of users' entry into and exit from controlled areas.

"When installed properly, biometric readers are secure and accurate. This makes it so much easier to pay staff the correct wages and overtime, which obviously has an impact on profit. The time, cost and operation benefits are far greater than rival forms of time and attendance methods."

Combating fraud

Recently, African Bank installed fingerprint scanners at its branches to help fight identity fraud. The bank required technology to verify client identities against the Home Affairs National Identity System (HANIS), a facility made available by the SA Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC). Very simply, client identities are verified via HANIS by means of fingerprint scanners that are integrated into the bank's core front-end system. The verifications are virtually instantaneous, which is key when it comes to customer service in the highly competitive banking sector.

"Fingerprints are still the most reliable means of verifying someone's identity," says Stan Khan, MD of Muvoni Biometric & Smartcard Solutions, which rolled out the scanners for African Bank. "They can't lie. You are who they say you are."

Accsys' Schroenn points out that hygiene is a factor when it comes to adopting fingerprint verification in some industries. "In environments where hygiene is of concern, such as within a hospital or corporate business, there's still reluctance by people to use technology that's based primarily on touch, and this is where the reduction in the cost of face technology is starting to impact."

Looking ahead, Schroenn believes biometric technology will be used extensively to control sensitive areas of a business - such as those that regulate data or money, for example.

Fingerprints are still the most reliable means of verifying someone's identity. They can't lie. You are who they say you are.

First published in the June 2013 issue of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine.

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