Table of Contents
- 1 Understanding Digital Identity
- 2 What is Digital Identity?
- 3 What is Biometrics?
- 4 Different Types of Biometrics: Physiological and Behavioral
- 5 Biometrics is Reshaping the Landscape of Digital Identity
- 6 Real-world Application of Biometrics
- 7 Privacy and Security Concerns Of Biometrics
- 8 Regulatory Compliance With Biometrics
- 9 Conclusion
- 10 About Identity.com
Introduction: Biometrics and Digital Identity in 2023
In today’s rapidly evolving tech-driven world, individuals and organizations must catch up with technological advancements quickly. Falling behind in this era of digital transformation is no longer an option. We now store and access our identities, credentials, and banking information in a digital world. Almost in the blink of an eye, we find ourselves poking at the next phase of digital identity called biometrics.
Biometrics represents the next level in the evolution of digital identity. It’s easy to use, highly secure, readily accessible, and applicable across various business sectors and personal lives. Biometric technology is here to change how you handle your digital life. In this article, you’ll learn why it’s important and how to take advantage of it.
Understanding Digital Identity
To understand biometrics’ role in relation to digital identity, it’s helpful to first gain some insights into the concept of digital identity. In the past, proving your identity used to be about “digging through your wallet to bring out your driver’s license, international passport, or any ID carrying similar importance or needed personal data.” Now, identity can be entirely digital.
This digital identity carries tons of information about each individual, surpassing the few pieces of information a plastic ID conveys about the owner. Digital Identity goes beyond name, age, address, and religion or political affiliation. Our digital identity is essentially a trail of digital footprints we leave on the internet, which includes details like emails, browser histories, online purchases, and even relationships forged through the internet.
What is Digital Identity?
Digital identity is the collection of information that uniquely identifies an individual or entity within the digital space. It encompasses many personal data, including names, addresses, email IDs, and social media profiles. A digital identity is used for various purposes, including authentication, authorization, and personalization of services.
What is Biometrics?
Biometrics measures a person’s unique biological or physical characteristics using biometric-enabled technologies. These attributes are then statistically analyzed for identification purposes.
Biometric technologies include a variety of techniques, such as fingerprint mapping, facial recognition, and retina scanning. Biometric technologies detect these distinguishing characteristics and turn them into digital data that is kept in a database. This digital data serves as a template for comparison with subsequent captures, confirming user identification when needed in the future and granting access to facilities or systems.
Different Types of Biometrics: Physiological and Behavioral
Biometric types can be grouped into two segments: physiological biometrics and behavioral biometrics. Physiological biometrics refers to the characteristics of the human body, while behavioral biometrics refers to the way an individual performs a particular task, such as signing or typing.
Although biometrics can be classified into smaller units, this article focuses on the most popular physiological biometrics. According to end users, it is the most important aspect of digital identity. Different types of physiological biometrics include:
- Iris recognition
- Retinal Scanning
- Facial Recognition
- Hand Geometry
This deals with analyzing unique patterns on the user’s fingertip’s skin, which includes ridges, arches, valleys, loops, and whorls. Statistically, it is impossible for two users to possess the same fingerprints—it is one of the most used biometric authentication methods.
Iris is a component of the eye that does not alter from birth to death unless it suffers damage from external sources. Their uniqueness can be spotted in genetically identical twins having different iris patterns. They’re so unique that a person’s left eye’s iris can differ from the right eye’s. Iris is the donut-shaped portion of the eye; it circles the pupil and harbors the eye’s obvious distinctive feature: the eye color.
The recent Apple Vision Pro and some Samsung devices use this scanning method. Note that some glasses and colored eye lenses can distort the accuracy of iris scanning.
Research has proven that humans have unique patterns of blood vessels at the back of our eyes, known as retina veins. The complex structure of veins that supply the retina with blood makes each person’s retina distinct and unique. These veins are light-sensitive, and retina scanning captures these unique details for identification purposes using a low-intensity light source.
Not the iris or the retina, but the whole face. The facial recognition technology measures different points on the user’s face, such as the nose’s length or size, the eye sockets’ depth, and the cheekbones’ shape.
The system captures these pieces of information mathematically and converts them into a binary format. As a result, the device stores this format and serves as a template for authentication whenever needed. For example, this biometric type is used on the iPhone, Samsung, and other mobile phones.
Hand geometry (the size and position of fingers)
Factories, warehouses, and office resumption time logs primarily use this type of authentication for verification purposes. It involves measuring the length, thickness, width, finger area, and palm width of the hand.
It is not as unique as the earlier-discussed biometric types. However, it verifies many people’s identities in situations where identity assurance or security needs are not as high. It is fast, cheap, and requires less memory space to operate or store the collected templates effectively.
Other biometric types that rely on physical, behavioral, or biological characteristics include digital signatures, ear recognition, vein recognition, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) matching, footprint recognition, gait recognition, typing, screen tapping, voice recognition, etc.
Biometrics is Reshaping the Landscape of Digital Identity
Biometrics is being used in various industries, leading to fast growth and its adoption in more sectors. In the next few subtopics, we will discuss various subjects that the emergence of biometrics solves, which are equally critical in the digital identity world.
1. Enhanced Security
Biometric identification is more secure than using email and passwords because it relies on unique and distinct data from an individual.
For example, the fingerprint, one of the major biometrics used, has a failure chance of 1 in 64 billion users. A hacker cannot easily guess biometrics like they can with passwords or PINs, and the likelihood of two users having the same biometric feature is statistically impossible. This doesn’t mean that biometrics doesn’t come with its risks and weaknesses, but its security supersedes passwords and PINs.
2. Ease and Convenience (coupled with enhanced security)
While biometrics is a rapidly developing technology in the digital identity world, the forgetful nature of passwords and PINS drives massive adoption of biometrics. Users are now presented with a uniquely more secure technology. Additionally, the burden of remembering passwords for websites and applications is rapidly diminishing; you can’t forget your fingerprint like you do with passwords.
Over 50% of the respondents to an Entrust Survey find passwords so hard to remember that they end up resetting them every month—note, every month. Only a tiny 6% think using passwords is really safe. This data results from 1,450 people who responded to the survey across a dozen digitally inclined cities globally, including France, the US, and the UK, as well as 400 respondents from Singapore, Australia, Japan, and Indonesia.
What did they say? 53% said fingerprint scans felt safer than passwords, while 47% chose facial recognition as their preferred way to stay secure online.
3. Mobile Integration and User Experience
Most newer versions of mobile phones are biometric-enabled, whether with fingerprint or facial recognition technology, in some cases both. According to the 2022 Duo Trusted Access Report, about 81% of smartphones are biometric-enabled. Statista shares a similar report across North America, Western Europe, and Asia Pacific.
Compared to previous years, the growth in this number indicates that manufacturers are recognizing the trend. This awareness eliminates obstacles, enabling more mobile phone users to utilize biometric features for improved data security and online payments. The user experience on mobile devices complements the ease of usage as discussed above and makes authentication an effortless experience.
Thanks to mobile integration, digital identity has undergone significant evolution. Now, our mobile device serves as a crucial tool for identity verification, particularly for end users on websites and applications. Organizations can use more advanced, specialized devices exclusively for this purpose. Meanwhile, individual users can depend on their mobile phones and tablets.
4. Fraud Mitigation
Impersonation becomes more challenging with fingerprints, retina scanning, or any form of biometric technology because the user’s login credentials (e.g., fingerprint data) are not transferrable to a third party. Using a knowledge-based identification system, a third party may be able to access passwords, PINs, or OTPs. However, biometrics, be it your finger or face, requires your presence.
In situations where fraudsters use advanced technology to manipulate systems, they often steal traditional email login details and passwords. However, with biometric technology, the system can promptly confirm the user’s identity during each encounter with the scanner. This ability for real-time identity verification, within seconds, significantly lessens the window of vulnerability that criminals have to commit fraud.
5. Multimodal Biometrics Authentication
If you know what “multifactor authentication” is, then you already have an idea of what multimodal biometric authentication is all about. In multifactor authentication, the system relies on multiple approaches to confirm user identity, which mostly rallies around three methods:
- something you know (like a password or PIN)
- something you have (like a smartphone or smart card)
- something you are (like a biometric identity)
However, multimodal changes the approaches to a series of “something you are (i.e., biometric identities only)”. For example, your fingerprint can be used as the first verification criteria, facial recognition used as the second, and Iris scanning as the third. In this way, we have carried out three levels of authentication using verification methods that have unique data for each user. This approach makes the process more secure and convenient. At the same time, it eliminates the need to remember passwords and PINs.
6. Continuous Biometric Authentication
Authentication can be performed at the beginning of a user’s access to a facility or application. However, “continuous biometric authentication” repeatedly verifies the user at intervals using various biometric factors. These factors include continuous facial scanning, monitoring of typing patterns, and mouse movement. They also track patterns of screen usage and gait recognition, which observes body movement.
This is not multi-factor authentication or multimodal biometric authentication. Instead, it’s an added level of security that ensures the authenticated user retains access and that no change of custody has occurred to a non-authenticated user or a bad actor.
Real-world Application of Biometrics
Due to its capacity to facilitate safe and hassle-free identity verification, biometrics is being used in a wide variety of real-world applications across various business sectors. The following is a list of notable applications of biometrics in the real world:
- Financial Services: Banks and financial institutions use biometrics to improve the security of financial transactions in mobile banking apps and ATMs. The financial institution is one of the fastest sectors to embrace biometrics and maximize it for users’ protection and Internet banking.
- National Identity Programs: For the purpose of uniquely identifying citizens and residents for different government services, some nations have created national ID programs employing biometrics (such as fingerprint and iris scans).
- Healthcare: Biometrics ensures that patients are who they say they are. This cuts down on medical errors and wrong exposure of patients’ records and generally makes healthcare settings safer regarding data.
- Access Control and Physical Security: Biometrics are used in building access control systems, allowing authorized personnel to enter warehouses, offices, factories, etc., using fingerprint, palm print, or facial recognition.
- Mobile Device Security: Mobile phones and other gadgets now offer peak security because they enable biometrics. This feature assists in unlocking devices and authorizing mobile payments.
Digital identity and verification extend to a wide range of real-world applications. These include enhancing airport security, streamlining border control and immigration processes, and facilitating efficient visa processing. They’re also pivotal in tracking time and attendance in businesses, aiding law enforcement in criminal identification, and integrating into consumer electronics. Furthermore, they increase vehicle security and are integral to e-commerce and various online services.
Privacy and Security Concerns Of Biometrics
Companies that use biometric verifications collect data from employees or users. They then use this data to compare and verify each user. With this data collection comes a profound responsibility to ensure the users’ data remains safe and secure.
If hackers or bad actors steal such data, the company will face damage, and users (employees) will also suffer personal consequences. This is largely because these unique biometric attributes, such as fingerprints, act as security gateways for various digital platforms, including mobile devices.
Unlike passwords, which can be altered if compromised, biometrics are permanent and unique to each individual. While this permanence offers enhanced security, it can be the opposite if not managed correctly. It’s critical for companies to collect only the essential data and utilize it strictly for its intended verification purpose.
Before integrating biometrics into their systems, companies must prioritize establishing robust data protection protocols. Without this, they expose users to significant risk. The same security concern prompts many mobile device manufacturers, like Samsung, to encrypt and store users’ biometrics on the device. As a result, exporting the data beyond trusted environments becomes impossible.
Regulatory Compliance With Biometrics
Currently, specific regulations for biometrics aren’t fully established. However, since biometrics involve personal data, they fall under existing personal data protection laws.
This includes regulations like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), the South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) in the USA, and the Switzerland’s Federal Act on Data Protection (FADP). As the field evolves, we can expect more detailed regulations in the future.
The evolution of biometrics in digital identity has been remarkable over the past decade. Today, sectors like digital identity, banking, and cybersecurity heavily depend on biometric verification for online transactions and enhanced data security.
Biometrics has revolutionized the realm of digital identity by providing superior security and user convenience. In today’s era, hackers increasingly compromise traditional passwords. Therefore, users widely accept biometric methods like fingerprint and facial recognition, which enhance the overall user experience. These technologies not only increase security by making fraudulent activities challenging but also offer diverse and continuous authentication methods. Their applications span various industries, from finance to healthcare.
However, if not properly implemented, biometrics present privacy and security challenges that demand robust protection measures and adherence to regulations. As biometrics have become a fabric for digital identity, the path forward is to find a balance between innovation and privacy.
In the 21st century, biometrics is at the center stage of digital identity and new technologies, and this aligns with what Identity.com represents. One of our pursuits is a secure internet where users have control over their identity, and if biometrics will help us achieve that alongside our blockchain solutions, so be it. Another reason why Identity.com doesn’t take a back seat in contributing to this future via identity management systems and protocols. In fact, we are a part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standards body for the World Wide Web.
Through our work, Identity.com is helping many businesses by giving their customers a hassle-free identity verification process. Our open-source ecosystem provides access to on-chain and secure identity verification solutions that improve the user experience and reduce onboarding friction through reusable and interoperable Gateway Passes. Therefore, if you’re interested in learning more about how we can help you with identity verification and general KYC processes, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.