Will biometric technology replace passwords?

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Not so long ago, fingerprint scanners and facial recognition technology were exclusive to spy movies and fictional spaceships. Now, this kind of technology is in most of our pockets. Biometric security measures have aesthetic appeal, but are they anything but superficial?

When companies link our accounts and devices to our physical bodies, does it pose a security risk? Does that mean they won’t replace traditional passwords? Exploring the science behind biometric technology helps us understand how it works and whether or not we should trust it.

What is biometric technology?

As the name suggests, biometric technology refers to a technology that identifies you by biology in some way or another. It almost sounds like a crazy science experiment, but it’s a lot simpler than you might think.

This means that instead of using a password, you are using something related to your physical existence. There is nothing new about the fact that some parts are using our biology as a tool to identify us.

When a person commits a crime or wants a certain career (especially in the military or with children), biometric identification is an important part of the process. Medical records of dental prints help identify Jane and John Does, hair follicles at the scene of a theft help catch criminals, and fingerprints are common for government employees.

Newer technology brings these once exclusive identification techniques to everyday devices.

You probably already use biometric technology on a regular basis. One of the classic examples is fingerprint recognition, the first successful type deployed to a mass audience.

In recent years, our capabilities have expanded to encompass much more than that in modern devices. While fingerprint readers were the norm in many smart devices for a while, facial ID and voice recognition technology has found its way into mainstream technology.

This fashionable way of identifying people can also go beyond these basic recognitions. Technically, biometrics also include things like DNA, blood, saliva, and the eyes (the iris and retina), although facial recognition technology and fingerprint scans are the most common.

However, we’re probably a long way from using finger pricks and eye scans just to use our everyday devices.

Will biometric technology replace traditional security measures?

Biometric technology has been everywhere and for some time. It is efficient technology that has the chic appearance that people desire. Most new electronic devices incorporate it in one way or another.

It certainly streamlines the processes and adds additional convenience functionality to any use of the device.

It is much faster to scan your face or give a voice command rather than having to enter a password. These biometric features also help people who tend to forget one of their saved passwords. Instead of relying on memory, it just uses your body (and it’s hard to leave your fingertips or face behind!).

Although they have become rather “standard” features, biometric technology is unlikely to completely replace all security measures anytime soon. It is a great tool to use in combination with other existing features; However, biometric technology has certain limitations that do not completely replace it with access codes.

Does biometric technology present security risks?

face scan

Depending on the type of biometric technology used, these systems present security risks.

There’s a big joke that anyone who uses these photo editing apps or genetic testing is giving their information to the government (sometimes even paying to do it). Unfortunately, this is a real risk. If you’re using something like facial recognition scans, it could be a reality, depending on the device.

Why? Because this data must be stored somewhere, either locally, i.e. on said device (as is the case with Apple devices using Face ID), or in a cloud system. Fortunately, the information is generally encrypted and otherwise secure. These systems are hard to hack, but it can (and has) happened.

There are governments that allegedly use biometrics for surveillance. The more we use and perfect technology, the closer we get to living in an episode of Black Mirror.

It is also not impossible for someone to hack into these systems and use your biometric data with malicious intent.

What is biometric spoofing?

Presentation attacks refer to attempts to trick biometric systems. They refer to everything from people trying to unlock accounts that aren’t theirs to people growing facial hair, mutilating their fingerprints, or wearing obstructive prostheses to evade successful facial recognition.

Identity theft is a special type of presentation attack where someone interferes with biometric systems to try to unlock them through impersonation. By “identity theft” we don’t mean trying to dress like you, although someone who looks a lot like you to begin with, like a sibling, might get away with it.

Most often, identity theft involves the use of other measures to bypass security systems. An easy way to do this is to use a picture or video of yourself trying to unlock your device.

Theoretically, it is easy to print a photo of someone from the Internet instead of learning their passwords. In practice, this is difficult because many algorithms combat this by taking in-depth 3D scans.

Another more complex technique that someone can use is to do a cast with someone’s finger and use that prosthesis in fingerprint scans. People can engrave fingerprints in clay and have it done successfully.

Is biometric technology more secure than traditional passwords?

While there is a risk that someone could trick a system with identity theft, it is still quite difficult. Biometric technology is not 100% foolproof; however, it is much more efficient than traditional password logins.

Cracking someone’s password or PIN code is possible for a skilled and dedicated hacker. Even if you take steps to make sure you get a secure passcode, there are programs and machines that crooks use to get the information anyway.

It’s certainly a great extra layer to add to your already existing security measures, but it’s important to stress that biometric measures aren’t flawless. If you have to wear a mask in a supermarket or end up with a cast on your hand, you need a backup so your phone doesn’t get stuck on you. It is also a good backup in case of failure of scanners or cameras.

Should I trust biometric technology?

Biometric security measures are very effective and provide an additional level of security for all your devices. While they probably aren’t a complete replacement for passcodes and logins, they’re a great feature that streamlines the use of the device.

Combining traditional metrics with modern biometric technology is the best way to prevent others from using your smart devices without permission.


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