A Guide To Biometric Security Systems

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One major aspect of security today is that of biometrics.  We see it in the media, we are aware of its use by certain organizations, and it is overall quite fascinating. 

But what is it?

Table of Contents:

Ok, let’s dive in!


What does biometric security mean?

First off, “bio” means “life” and “metric” means “to measure”.  Both are Greek words originally. 

Biometrics has gained relevance as computers have risen to prominence in the second half of the 20th century, with the first biometric recognition algorithm being patented in 1994 and put to use in 1995.

Now, there are two types of biometric security – biometric verification and biometric identification. 

biometric-authentication-important-factor-secure-stronger-mobile-payment-system

These two terms are easily confused, because of how subtly different they are, and how they are applied.


Biometric Verification

Biometric verification is a method of access control which allows entry or access to a system or location, based on verifying someone’s physical attributes, or distinct body measurements, rather than some object they possess, like a key.

In other words, an individual is allowed or denied access based on certain specific and unchanging biological characteristics that they possess for the duration of their lives, like their unique fingerprints.

Facial recognition is also frequently associated with biometric technology.

Facial recognition software, being part of the overall scope of biometrics, while it is in existence, is still very much in development, although mass media seems to project its futurist fantasies onto it, somewhat.


Behavioural Vs. Physiological Data

We must also mention that there are two types of data which biometric devices can acquire, which are: behavioural data, and physiological data.

This is pertinent as it affects the software and the types of sensors used.

Behavioural data includes things like keystrokes on a keyboard, signatures that are written down, and the human voice.  These are all action-based, and so some biometric sensors observe these unique characteristics.

And then, there is physiological data for the sensors to scrutinize. This includes, fingerprints, iris, and facial recognition, as well as others.

biometrics behavioral vs physiological

There are apps you can get now on your smart phone which can scan your fingerprint, claiming to be biometric in nature, but their effectiveness should be, at the very least, questioned.  This is particularly true if they claim to be stand-alone biometric security apps.

Look for smart phone apps with biometric capability that work in conjunction with larger and more secure systems.  This will potentially lend the apps credence.


Biometric Identification

The second type of biometric security is biometric identification.

Biometric identification is when, for example, a fingerprint is obtained somewhere, like a crime scene, and then cross-referenced with a database containing other fingerprints, in order to see who the identity of the found fingerprint belongs to.

This type of security is employed by various law forces around the world, in an effort to uphold the law and catch criminals who may yet elude justice.

crime scene fingerprints

Whether we are speaking of verification or identification, biometrics is going to be based on identifying someone’s individual characteristics, which are extremely difficult to replicate. 

The goal of biometric security is to make it 100% impossible to replicate any of the required characteristics.

If the biometric verification system is more elaborate, it will require a combination of characteristics to permit entry, where the person seeking access will need to offer more than one form of unique ID at the same time (ie. both physiological and behavioural).

As you may have gleaned by now, biometrics has a certain beauty to the philosophy behind the technology, which is to do away with objects such as cards and keys and use the most logical thing possible to gain access to a system – the person themselves.

Now that we’ve defined some of the relevant terms, let’s look at exactly how biometric security works, when applied.


How does biometric security work?

First, an individual has their personal details (ie. fingerprints) added into a secure system.

This usually involves the willing consent of an individual, since often times it is the owner of the business or the manager of a facility who would want to protect their own interests, adding the personal characteristics of themselves and their staff to the system. 

So, in this way, people generally wish to be added to a biometric system, and actively add their information to the system, either themselves, or someone adds them.  This creates a group of approved individuals who can access that system.

fingerprint

However, when it comes to criminal databases, the individual providing their data, through their illegal actions, must then be added, having no choice in the matter.  Once labelled a criminal, these individuals go into a database for criminals and their data is collected and kept.

As for the process of being added to such a biometric database (whatever the reason) – this, then, involves a scan of the personal details previously mentioned, ie. fingerprints, iris scan, signature, voice recording, and so forth. 

The more accurate detail that is added to the scan, the more protected the system will be, because the harder it will then be for someone to impersonate those details. 

Once the details are sufficiently scanned and added, along with your identity, this data is then stored into the biometric system, and you are then known to the system.

The system itself has its own form of intelligence insofar is its job is to identify you correctly, the next time you return to prove your identity.

As mentioned, due to the individualistic nature of the authentication, a biometric security system is considered the highest form of security system available, provided it is adequately installed and maintained.


What is a biometric sensor?

Now we’ve talked about how biometric security systems work, but we should take a closer look at the sensors and how they, in particular, function. 

Because, in order for biometric security to function as it does, one sensor or another is needed.

biometric sensors

These sensors are built into a security access point, and do the work of taking the previously mentioned characteristics it scans, whether we’re talking about fingerprints, iris scan, or facial recognition, and then deciding to either authenticate / verify an individual as being legitimate, or not.

Each type of characteristic has similar, but different, principles which guide the software towards its goal of deciding if “you” are you.

For instance, with fingerprints, when a finger is pressed directly onto an optical sensor pad, a light sensor is then activated to take a picture of the fingerprint in detail.

mobile_fingerprint_identification-100570921-primary.idge

Then, the built-in biometric software can use a combination thermal data, capacitive data, echographic data, image data, and more to compile a profile of the fingerprint it acquires.

Then, ultimately, needs to compare it with its previous record of a person’s fingerprint in order to discern if they are the same.

This is why, when comparing fingerprint scans to facial recognition software, facial recognition software is generally much less dependable on the whole.

Why? Well, because, facial recognition cameras only capture an image, taken at a distance, from a particular angle, which then adds many more variables into the biometric security software to contend with in order to 100% assure that this person in the picture is the same person on record.

Without complete certainty, this type of biometric software becomes less reliable than fingerprint scanning software, which takes a direct scan of the access-seeking digit, up close and from one straight-on angle.

As it happens, facial recognition software has been in development for decades, and it continues to get more reliable when it comes to practical applications.  That said, it still needs work.


When is biometric security used?

While we’ve alluded to who might use this type of technology, let us clarify here that there are two main scenarios where biometric security is needed above any other type of security.

Once such instance when biometric verification is needed is when the system or location being guarded requires the highest level of security possible, including government facilities like the FBI, who store extremely private, sensitive records and documents.

fbi records

Also, certain scientific facilities where crucial and top-secret data must be guarded and stored is yet another example of when biometrics is much needed.

Another instance when biometric security systems may be employed are environments where identity theft is a major threat (or worse, has happened), and vast banks of data are contained within, which, if breached, could cause enormous problems for all involved.

Beyond these very important uses for biometric security systems, there is, as per usual, a movement of trying to bring the technology to the level of the common person, by trying to integrate elements of this type of security into products which need vital protection.

One example, as mentioned before, is our personal smart phones, since our identities are contained within along with a lot of our private info, and so apps that now include (or try to include) biometric parameters are always being developed for such purposes. 

And then there are things like gun safes, which seems to be a rather sensible application for biometrics.


What are the advantages of a biometric security system?

Since one person’s characteristics are so unique, this type of required verification is exponentially more secure than, say, a code (which can be cracked), or physical key which can be much more easily duplicated, even if it is a complex key.

In this sense, by it’s very nature, biometric security is advantageous over other methods.

biometric iris scan in progress

Overall, with biometric security, we have a much stronger security system, where whatever is being guarded stays completely inaccessible without the required 100% unique biological information being provided and 100% verified.

In addition, as it pertains to solving crimes worldwide, biometric identification is a critical facet of this type of security. 

And, we think it is true to say that whatever the top dog security institutions are using, that is the example to be followed. 

In other words, does the FBI use this type of security system?  If yes, then that is the standard for top security that should be followed.  Will it be tough to obtain, for an ordinary company?  Yes, but still worth striving for.


What are the disadvantages of a biometric security system?

Even though it would seem to be the ideal confluence of circumstances by which to create the perfect security system, biometrics has what could be considered inherent flaws. 

Two of the main disadvantages of biometric security, depending on how you look at it, includes: cost and delays.

In terms of costs, biometric systems are, generally, rather costly. Especially if it is an entire system that needs installing, versus a single product which simply uses the technology as a type of “feature”.

biometric s6000

Certainly, the best kinds of biometric security systems are going to come at a large cost, because of how intelligent the systems need to be and what they are required to protect. 

Large companies who require such protection know this, and are willing to invest in these sorts of systems. Such companies have assets to protect, and they’re not going to skimp when it comes to security.

What creates the cost? Well, the more finicky the biometric system, and the more users of said system, and the more important things that the system needs to protect, this will all logistically cost more to make and develop, and then also for the end users to purchase. 

Costly?  Yes.  Worth it?

What’s that you say?  No?  There are sure to be free biometric options available to those unwilling to invest in them, but anyone expecting to get the same quality out of something that has an inherent cost to make, but is being offered for free, probably is partly delusional.

In any case, be sure to do your research before purchasing any security system.

Now, in terms of potential delays, another aspect of biometric security is that, in some instances, there can be various sorts of delays that come along with such a system. 

For instance, the inability to access certain things remotely, and, rather, the necessity to physically be in front of the biometric access point, may require a person to travel further than they would like to, just to gain access to something.

In this age of convenience, everyone hates delays and wants what they want when they want it now now now.  Yes, we understand that. 

california dmv

But, if there is a line-up of people waiting to be verified by way of biometric scan, for example, for a passport or license of some sort, this can create a line up of impatient people, ie. delays.


Wrapping Up

Biometric technology is on the rise, and for good reason.  It is the most logical way to authenticate someone who wishes to have access to a protected system.

Here we have gone over a number of facets of this technology, and hopefully we have provided enough information so that you have a grasp of what it is and how it works.

If you have any questions or comments for us, please leave them below.  Thanks for reading!

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