What is Biometric Authentication? An in-depth overview

In today’s digital world, biometrics is considered to be the most suitable way to identify and authenticate individuals in the most reliable and fast way using their unique biological characteristics. 

Bartosz Sajewski

However, the success of a biometric system heavily depends on choosing the right provider for that, which is not easy. It requires a deep knowledge of biometrics and an understanding of the different types that each use case requires. 

In this article, we will dive deep into the world of biometrics and talk in-depth about different types of authentication, use cases, and what to pay attention to when choosing the solution for your business.

What is Biometrics?

Biometrics refers to the process of measuring unique physical and biological characteristics to identify a person. 

The most common options for biometric identification are facial recognition, fingerprint mapping and retina scans. These are also known as morphological biometrics and can be used with security scanners. 

Think of the Face ID and Touch ID technologies in smartphones that we use every day to unlock our phones. Both of them are clear and probably the most popular examples of biometrics. 

Other than facial features, researchers claim behavioural characteristics could also be helpful. Behavioural patterns are unique to individuals, and with the measurement and statistical analysis of these patterns, they can be used for identification. 

How are Biometrics used in security?

To put it in a simple way, biometric security replaces the need for a key or a password for unlocking access to phones, computers, and restricted areas. 

Every person has a unique biometric identity, and it is nearly impossible to steal or impersonate someone to gain access to systems compared to keys and passwords. 

Biometric scanners are hardware tools used in security for identity verification. The technology obtains and maps biometric data. Then this data is encrypted and stored within the device or in a remote server to be matched with future attempts to gain access. 

As physical characteristics are relatively fixed and unique, using them to approve or deny access to a system is convenient for improving security. 

These characteristics cannot be lost or forgotten, and they are very difficult to steal or impersonate. 

What is Biometric Authentication?

Biometric authentication refers to the procedure of identity verification through unique biological characteristics for authorising access to digital assets.

In the authentication process, a user’s live identity is compared to the biometric data in the company’s database.  

One of the most critical aspects of authentication is liveness. This helps ensure that a real-life person is present at the time of authentication.

Biometric Authentication vs Verification - Key Differences 

The primary difference between authentication and verification is in the process of identification. The authentication process uses a person's live identity, and verification, on the other hand, validates their official ID documents.

Another important difference is that verification is usually done once. It happens when the customer first starts to use the service. On the other hand, users need to authenticate themselves every time they want to gain access to their systems. 

Due to the different procedures, the time frame of identification for verification and authentication is also different. 

Authentication is an instant process because live data is compared with existing data. But the verification process validates identity officially, which might take longer. 

Key Advantages of Biometric Authentication Solutions

The most significant advantage of Biometric Authentication solutions is high security and convenience. 

Biometric characteristics are unique to an individual, and it isn't easy to replicate them. Additionally, the liveness factor of the authentication process provides another layer of security to biometrics.

From a user's perspective, biometric authentication is convenient in many ways. The automated process makes it very quick, and it is incredibly easy to use fingerprint or facial recognition.

How does Biometric authentication work?

The process is simple. Biometric authentication technology compares preset data, usually known as the “owner” or person who is supposed to have access, to the data of a “visitor”. 

If the visitor’s data matches the preset data, the identity has been authenticated, and the person gains access to their system. 

It is almost impossible for two biometric datasets to match 100%, and that’s why there is a margin of error in the process. These two sets need to be nearly identical, but not exactly identical. 

For example, this can lead to a higher chance of a fake fingerprint being considered genuine. However, it is very hard to forge biometric characteristics, and the risk of fraud is considered to be low in biometric identification. 

Types of Biometric Authentication

There are several different types of Biometric Authentication. Let’s have a look at some them:

  • Facial Recognition

Facial recognition confirms a person's identity by automatically localizing them in an image or video. It compares this data to an image stored in a database as mathematical code. 

The main advantage of facial recognition is the little interaction needed with the device when using it. This technology is also widely used already and highly effective when combined with other biometric measures. 

  • Fingerprint Scanning

The fingerprint is a unique identifier, making it a great biometric authentication solution. 

A fingerprint scanner is used to authenticate data in fingerprint recognition. There are a couple of different ways a fingerprint is converted into data.

Even though it is a reliable solution, some issues can still arise with injuries that can interfere with scans.

  • Voice recognition

Voice is a very convenient authentication method that is extremely hard to falsify. It is as unique as fingerprints and facial features.

There are a variety of fields where voice recognition can be used. Call centres, security systems, forensic analysis, and teleconferencing fields are the most common places where you can see them being used. 

Voice recognition can make systems more effective and can be used with other biometric authentication methods when it comes to more confidential matters.

  • Handwriting recognition

Signature verification is generally seen as a trustworthy authentication method. This method has been used to confirm identity for centuries. 

In this case, the technology uses pattern recognition algorithms or mathematical curve analysis methods to verify signatures.

The advantage of handwriting recognition is that the technology does not need advanced devices to work - a touchscreen is sufficient and widely available these days.

However, there are some concerns with this authentication method. People might have inconsistent signatures,  and it is only suitable for low-level security operations.

  • Iris recognition

Iris recognition is one of the most accurate biometric authentication methods. It works through an algorithm detecting differences in the iris, which is well protected in the body.

The technology works by locating the pupil with an iris scanner, after which the iris is detected and isolated from other unnecessary parts. Then it is divided into blocks and converted into numerical values representing the image. 

Use cases for the Biometric Authentication

Biometric authentication solutions are used in various industries to improve systems and create more trust. Sectors that use this technology include banking, retail, travel, etc. 

Let’s have a look at some use cases: 

Biometric Authentication in law enforcement & Public security

There are a couple of different ways that biometric authentication is used in law enforcement and public security. While biometric data can be used to mitigate security concerns, these uses are also sometimes criticized because of privacy concerns.

Biometrics are mostly used in surveillance - following high-risk individuals, tracking them, and screening large crowds for suspicious activity. This can apply both to law enforcement and public security, as airports, borders and other sensitive spots are under increased scrutiny. 

Law enforcement agencies worldwide use Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) and Automated Biometric Identification Systems (ABIS) to identify criminals using fingerprints, mugshots and iris scans.

Biometric Authentication in travel industry

Using biometric authentication methods in airports and hospitality is a great way to increase security and improve customer experiences. Today passengers can be screened and authenticated with a facial scan, meaning they can board flights without showing identification.

In hospitality, biometrics are used for self-check-ins to scan visitors and integrate customer data into one point. This streamlines the check-in process, creates a better customer experience, and ensures the safety of both the company and the customer. 

Biometric Authentication in commercial applications

Banks, fintech solutions, and telecoms can benefit from biometric authentication methods by applying them to their mandatory Know Your Customer (KYC) processes. KYC is an essential part of Anti-Money Laundering efforts and fighting financial crime. 

KYC is used to verify the client’s identity when opening an account and periodically over time. Using biometrics can make the process of identification much faster and more efficient. 

As the use of digital services has increased with the pandemic, new solutions must be used to ensure the safety of the customers and financial institutions. 

How accurate are Biometric Solutions in 2022?

Artificial Intelligence has gotten a lot more accurate in facial recognition in the past years - in NIST’s 2020 tests, the best algorithm had a failure rate of 0,08% - but some factors still increase the risk for error.

People of a certain gender or skin colour might be more recognizable in different systems. It has been found that a person dying or cutting their hair, changing the shape of their eyebrows or growing a beard makes facial recognition harder.

As the rejection and acceptance rates in a biometric control application are intertwined and tuned into acceptable risk levels, the systems will be adjusted to high accuracy for maximum security. 

What to pay attention to when choosing a facial biometric solution?

There are several different factors to consider when choosing the best biometric solution for your business. Some of the most important factors include accuracy, acceptability, and cost-effectiveness.

It is crucial to remember that there are different aspects before choosing the vendor for your biometric solution. For example, “Liveness Detection” is the ability of a system to confirm that it connects to a physically present human being and not a photo or a scan.

You should also assess things like False Acceptance Rate (FAR) and False Rejection Rate (FRR) to be relatively low by the technology you’re using to authenticate users daily.

Here at TransactionLink, we build a one-stop shop to help you build FinTech solutions. We offer an open banking solution that allows you to confirm your users’ identities and learn their personal information.

Have a look at our AppStore and learn more about the products we offer to fuel innovation and assist in creating innovative solutions in the ever-growing FinTech industry.   

Table of content

  • What is Biometrics?
  • How are Biometrics used in security?
  • What is Biometric Authentication?
  • Biometric Authentication vs Verification - Key Differences 
  • Key Advantages of Biometric Authentication Solutions
  • How does Biometric authentication work?
  • Types of Biometric Authentication
  • Use cases for the Biometric Authentication
  • Biometric Authentication in law enforcement & Public security
  • Biometric Authentication in travel industry
  • Biometric Authentication in commercial applications
  • How accurate are Biometric Solutions in 2022?
  • What to pay attention to when choosing a facial biometric solution?
Bartosz Sajewski