81% of hacking-related breaches use stolen, or weak passwords. Due to the obvious flaws in the traditional way of accessing our devices and apps, Ping Identity has assessed the rise in biometric data use, whether it really is more secure, and the impact it will have on the way we store and use our personal data.
In the three years leading up to 2022, the number of Gen Zs who fell victim to online scams rose by 123%. While this generation of digital natives is often perceived as the most tech savvy, digitally literate age group, the rise in Gen Z falling for online scammers is reflective of higher levels of comfort in online spaces, often leading to unforeseen financial and emotional harm as a result. It has become increasingly clear that passwords alone no longer make the cut in terms of device security.
- Biometric data is being used for a whole range of different purposes, with over 75% of Americans having used biometric technology
- 38% of people already using face authentication to access their mobile banking app.
- 37% of those over 40 feel safer using biometrics for security than before the pandemic.
The prevalence of online fraud and cybercrime continues to increase worldwide, growing at a rapid rate by the year. The general consensus in recent years is that enhanced levels of cybersecurity must be built on zero trust and passwordless authentication. Rather than a continued reliance on passwords, security tools are employing users’ biometric data to prove that the person, and their device, is legitimate.
Types of biometric information
Common, widespread uses of biometrics include fingerprint and facial recognition, which almost any modern mobile phone or electronic device will have as an option. Unlocking your phone or laptop simply by looking at it, or even speaking to it, is now the absolute norm. As this technology continues to progress, expand, and evolve, any security issues directly linked to these methods are often overlooked.
We all know the importance of securing our login information. Keeping our many usernames and passwords safe has become second nature to us and with identity fraud losses totalling out at $52bn in 2021, it is now more important than ever that we achieve added levels of online safety.
Now that biometric data is being used more frequently to access our online accounts, how is this information actually being stored? It begs the question of whether biometric data is actually as safe as we would like it to assume, and are there any ways to enhance levels of security of our biometric data?
How is biometric information captured?
Distinctive biometric traits are used to confirm the identity of the user. While they must be unique to the individual, it is also important that they are permanent and unchangeable, allowing for long term access, as well as possessing measurable and collectable properties.
The current, commonly captured biometric data includes:
- Fingerprint templates
- Iris and retina templates
- Voice print
- 2D or 3D facial structure maps
- Hand and finger geometry maps
- Vein recognition templates
- Gait analysis maps
- DNA profiles
- Behavioural biometric profiles
When combined, these characteristics are what makes biometric data one of the most effective means of identifying users. The unique characteristics are what gives biometrics such high levels of reliability for users. It simply isn’t possible to forget or lose our fingerprints in the same way we might forget a username or password!
The future of biometric data
While the commonly used types of biometric data are well known to us, there are also a range of other biometrics that are being implemented on a smaller scale. Although not widespread in terms of their use, some of these surprising biometric applications are set to be implemented in the future! These include:
- Body odour, unique chemical footprints each person carries with them
- Ear print or structure, which doesn’t change with age
- Gesture recognition, already part of Windows 10
- Lip prints, as each person has a unique pattern of lip grooves
- How Is Biometric Information Stored?
- As users cannot change their biometric data that is obtained by unauthorised parties, it is extremely important that it be handled with the utmost care.
Why are biometrics safer?
Companies such as Apple have decided that they will phase out passwords altogether, and Google Chrome’s password manager is due to get desktop biometric authentication very soon. Due to concerns surrounding data breaches, social engineering, or phishing attacks these companies who lead the way in terms of smart at-home devices believe this will reduce the risk of your identity, personal information, and finances being compromised.
Biometric technology follows a number of steps in ensuring your data remains secure.
- Capturing the information is the first step towards using biometric information for identity authentication.
- It is then converted to a mathematical rendering known as a biometric template, referenced against the live version presented by the user.
- This converts or copies specific characteristics of a biometric sample into a secure form, taking the image or sample out of the equation and replacing it with a binary mathematical equivalent or algorithm.
These steps make it nearly impossible to replicate biometrics, discarding the image of a fingerprint, iris or any given characteristic while the live version is compared in real time to the captured characteristics.
How is biometric data stored?
Unlike passwords, biometric data is usually only stored on a user’s device. No external devices, databases or servers can access the data, eliminating any single collection point where a hacker might steal it. In the unlikely event that someone did gain access to a device’s biometric data, it is impossible to reverse engineer the conversion that created it to produce an image that will be recognised and accepted by a biometric sensor.
Any sensor on a device has a file where the biometric template is stored. This file is protected by a randomly generated key encrypted into the system.
Biometric data is usually stored securely using one of these methods:
- On a device
- On a portable token
- On a control board
- On a biometric database server
- On both a server and a device
- Split across multiple pieces of hardware
What are the risks when storing biometric data?
Although seen as the most secure form of storing data, there still are some risks. How secure your biometric is will depend on how you store it! All storage methods mentioned above use encryption to protect biometric data.
This is a secure means of storage, although anything that is encrypted can be decrypted. Encrypted data is only as safe, secure and trustworthy as the users who have access to it.
Device storage is far more secure than storage in a database. Although databases can be convenient and cost effective, with large numbers of biometric templates for users, databases can be an attractive hacking target. If hacked, large volumes of data become immediately vulnerable. Encryption is key and can be a big help, but the key to risk reduction. is having control over who has access to data and how they are using it.
The probability of identifying someone through biometric data is very high. That being said, 100% accuracy can’t be guaranteed. Additionally, although rare, there have been cases of unauthorised users accessing devices secured with biometrics. The rate at which this is measured, known as the false accept rate (FAR) is typically one or two in 100,000, reinforcing the fact that biometrics are one of the most secure means of device protection.
Privacy is another common concern. Biometric data is likely to bring targeted advertising to the physical world. An example of this is in-store cameras that collaborate with social media companies. This could result in in-store ads to display targeted, customer specific ads when you enter a store.
Fortunately, some government bodies are aware of current trends, and laws are being created to control the way biometric data is used. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) addresses these concerns in Europe, and a growing number of states are enacting or considering Biometric Information Privacy Laws (BIPAs).
Protecting your biometric information
The market for biometrics, such as facial recognition, is estimated to grow $7bn by 2024.
Around 28% biometric technology is used in the USA by the financial sector and more than 60% of payment transactions using biometric authentication will be carried out remotely.
As biometrics use becomes more common, your personal traits are likely to be stored in a growing number of places. It is important for users to stay vigilant about biometric security. Here are some things to consider when providing your biometric information.
How to use biometrics securely
There are some key ways in which you can use biometrics in a safe and secure manner.
- Don’t provide a piece of biometric information without carefully considering the need to do so, determining the track record of any entity asking you to provide it.
- Don’t hesitate to ask questions and express concerns.
- If you are uncomfortable providing your information to a device, a service, a product, or an organization, don’t give them any of your information, biometric or otherwise.
- Follow familiar, basic security and privacy recommendations that were widespread before most users even knew biometrics was a thing.
- Continue to use strong passwords and change them periodically.
- Be sure to keep your device software current so that you get the latest updates and patches, which often address security flaws.
- Pay particular attention to your operating system and internet security software.
Whatever the circumstance, bear in mind that your identifying information, including biometric data, belongs to you.
Depending on where you live, laws and regulations are in place to protect you and your data and to require security standards and reporting requirements by any entity that requests and collects user data.
Ping provides some of the largest organisations in the world with biometric authentication capabilities while protecting user privacy.