Biometric access: convenience vs security

Biometric devices are increasingly being deployed to secure access to residential and business spaces, but it needs to be done in a manner that's both convenient and secure.


Johannesburg, 05 Oct 2018
Nicolas Garcia, business unit director of sales for sub-Saharan Africa, IDEMIA.
Nicolas Garcia, business unit director of sales for sub-Saharan Africa, IDEMIA.

I used to work for a company that had a fingerprint scanner at the front door. In the mornings, I'd stand there for minutes, sometimes, while the device beeped repeatedly, rejecting my fingerprint. Only one of my fingerprints had been captured for the device and sometimes it just didn't recognise it. It's incredibly frustrating. It was certainly my finger, but the device that controlled my access to the building didn't always agree. A queue of people would build up, some of them would be allowed access with the first finger press, others held up the line. It didn't take long for people to work out that the minute one person was successful, the rest could just enter through the now-open door. This solution was neither convenient nor secure, says Nicolas Garcia, business unit director of sales for sub-Saharan Africa at IDEMIA.

Garcia discusses the relationship between a false acceptance rate and a false rejection rate. "Traditionally, access control has to choose between security and convenience. The lower your false acceptance rate, the more secure the technology. However, the lower your false rejection rate, the greater the convenience factor. The trick is to find a balance between the two that gives you a secure and convenient solution.

"Advances such as contactless biometric technology mean companies no longer have to compromise," says Garcia. "It's now possible to overcome several of the standard causes of biometric data being rejected, such as the finger being wet, or a dirty scanning surface, or even a worn or damaged fingerprint."

Other customer pain points include concerns around the hygiene of scanning surfaces, with people being reluctant to press their fingers against what is perceived to be a potentially germ-infested area.

One of the key improvements to the efficacy rate of fingerprint scanning devices is the use of a larger surface area to capture fingerprint data. He explains: "When a biometric device has to identify so-called 'difficult' fingerprints, such as those that have been worn away by manual labour or that belong to older people (your fingerprints become less clear as you age), there is less data to be captured, which makes it more difficult to identify that individual. However, if you enlarge the surface area that you use to capture the print, you're able to get more data and there's a greater likelihood of an accurate identification."

Garcia says: "There's a growing interest in the use of biometrics for security applications around the world, not just in South Africa. The adoption rate is growing, particularly for public-facing applications."

He advises anyone considering investing in biometrics to first consider the use case, and then choose the biometric solution that's best suited to that particular application. "For instance, fingerprint biometrics is best suited where time and attendance and access control are required. There is no one size fits all solution when it comes to biometric security."

Once the use case and appropriate solution have been identified, the next piece of advice from Garcia is that the customer invest in a proper long-term solution. He says: "Biometric technology is a long-term investment; you need to compare the total cost of ownership against the cost of acquisition. If you buy a cheaper solution then have to replace it in a couple of years, not only is that going to cost you more in the long run, it's also going to impact on your business from a convenience perspective."

Benefits of frictionless biometric technology:

* Delivers high throughput, as individuals only have to wave their hands through the device in passing;
* Unaffected by environmental factors such as poor lighting, dust;
* Copes with wet, dry, dirty and faded fingerprints;
* No latent prints are left on the scanner;
* Better hygiene because nobody actually touches the surface;
* Scan any fingers on either hand, from right to left or left to right direction;
* Proximity assurance: because fingerprint scanning happens at arm's length, nobody can follow the person through the access point without their knowledge; and
* The larger capture area is able to scan both the shape and curvature of up to four fingers at a time, increasing the efficacy rate.

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