Biometrics have a wide range of applications in the real world, the main uses being data gathering and security. Biometrics can be invaluable tools in preventing identity theft or unauthorised access to data or to a physical location. The increase in security comes from the fact that biometrics are extremely difficult to forge and the characteristics used are mostly unique to each individual, theoretically resulting in high levels of security.
Sir Francis Galton calculated that the chance of two people having the same fingerprints were “1 in 64 billion” about 10 times the population of the entire planet
Biometrics are increasingly being used in everyday life, for example some schools are using fingerprint scanners to restrict access to certain areas of the school and to take register of attendance. This is a fool proof way of recording pupil attendance as there is no possibility of someone being signed in who is not actually present.
There are two main types of biometrics- behavioural biometrics and physical biometrics.
Behavioural biometrics refers to individual traits that have been developed over time such as voice recognition and speech analysis as well as other traits such as a person’s written signature. Physical biometrics refer to the bodily/external traits unique to each person such as finger prints or retinal/iris recognition.
Behavioural biometrics are used for verification purposes while physical biometrics can be used for identification and/or verification purposes.
There is a subtle difference between verification and identification. Verification involves checking a basic identity (e.g. ID number) and then taking a biometric template of the subject and comparing it to one stored in the database using a 1:1 matching algorithm. Essentially it is determining if a person is who they claim to be.1
Identification however is to establish a person’s identity solely using biometric measurements i.e. there is no basic identity like ID number, PIN etc. It works by taking a biometric sample and comparing it to the ones in the database until it finds a match or terminates. It uses a 1:N matching algorithm. Identification refers to determining who a person is. 1
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1The main types of Behavioural biometrics are keystroke recognition and speaker identification(Any more). Keystroke recognition also known as Keystroke Dynamics () measures the characteristics of a person’s typing patterns. Two main measurements are recorded – dwell time and flight time. Dwell time refers to how long a key is pressed and flight time is the time between the previous key being depressed and the next key being pressed. The data is then fed into a unique neural algorithm which determines a primary pattern for future comparison().
The data needed for keystroke recognition is obtained using keystroke logging. Keystroke recognition is possible because some characteristics of keystroke production are as individual as handwriting or a signature(). The techniques used to determine the individualities range from statistical techniques to neural-nets to artificial intelligence().
Speaker identification or recognition is checking a user’s claimed identity using characteristics extracted from their voices(). It is different from speech recognition and voice recognition. Speech recognition is recognising what is being said not who is saying it. Voice recognition uses speaker identification to determine what is being said (speech recognition). It cannot recognise speech accurately from new users but can be quite precise with individuals which it has been trained with().
Speaker identification uses acoustic patterns that reflect anatomy, e.g. size and shape of the throat and mouth, and learned behavioural characteristics. Examples of learned behavioural characteristics are voice pitch, speaking style and accent.
There are two phases to speaker recognition systems – enrolment and verification. Enrolment is where the user has his voice recorded and a number of features are extracted to form a voice print. In the verification phase, a sample of a person’s speech or an utterance is taken and compared against a previously created voice print().
Speech identification systems fall into two categories – text-dependant and text-independent().
Text-dependant systems record a pass phrase from a user during enrolment. This pass phrase must be spoken whenever using the system. The text for the enrolment and verification phases are the same. Passwords and PINs can be used for additional authentication().
Text-independent systems can have any text during enrolment and verification. The text does not have to be the same. This type of system does not compare what was said at enrolment and verification and hence, very often speech recognition is also used to determine what the user is saying at the point of authentication().
2 There are four main types of physical biometrics – fingerprint recognition, voice authentication, hand/finger geometry recognition and facial recognition.
Fingerprint recognition involves taking an image a person’s fingertips and recording certain characteristics. The main characteristics recorded are patterns, which are aggregate characteristics of ridges, and minutia points, which are unique features found within patterns(). Knowledge of the structure of the human skin and its properties are needed to create these technologies. Fingerprint recognition can be used from criminal investigations to time attendance systems, in a movie rental or in a police identification institute. (2)
There are three common sensors employed in taking fingerprints – optical, ultrasonic and capacitance. Optical fingerprint imaging uses visible light to capture a digital image of the fingerprint. The surface layer of the sensor is called the touch surface and is where the finger is placed. Beneath this surface is the light-emitting phosphor layer which shines light onto the surface of the finger. Light reflected from the finger travels through the phosphor layer to a charge-coupled device which captures an electronic print of the fingertip. However the quality of the image is greatly affected by the state of the skin. If the skin is dirty or eroded the image is very difficult to capture accurately. This sensor can also be easily fooled by an image of a fingerprint if it does not have a “live finger” detector().
Ultrasonic sensors use very high frequency sound waves to penetrate the upper layer of the skin. The reflected energy is measured using piezoelectric materials. As the dermal skin layer has the same characteristic pattern of the fingerprint, the reflected energy can be used to form an image().
Capacitance sensors use two plates. One plate is of a parallel-plate capacitor and the other is the dermal layer which is electrically conductive. The epidermal layer is non-conductive and hence acts as the dielectric.
Voice recognition was discussed before under behavioural biometrics. This can also be used as a physical biometric device if the text-independent system is used without any other forms of identification such as ID number. However it is slower that the behavioural version as it uses a 1:N algorithm for matching.
Hand or finger geometry recognition uses characteristics such as finger length, thickness and curvature. This type of biometrics is less invasive and it is easier to collect the data. It can be desirable in access control situations such as border control. Although hand features are not descriptive enough, it is possible to attain a robust verification by combining various individual features.
Facial Recognition(Need completing) Facial recognition uses characteristics derived from the subjects face to find a match with picture stored in a database using various algorithms. There are a number of different ways to achieve this. (There are two different algorithmic approaches/ways)
Now that we have some insight into biometrics, the different types and how they work, we shall briefly discuss the good and bad points related to biometrics.
Biometrics usually always result in the increase in security, whether for a small home laptop or for a large bank who hold personal data. The increase in the security comes from the fact that instead of using passwords or other software based forms of access, physical biometrics requires the user to physically interact with the system and use hardware to input a key, the key being the finger print, iris scan, face image etc. This further strengthened security can also be relatively inexpensive, depending on the type of biometric solution used. For example finger print scanners are very common nowadays and prices are decreasing. Security is increased due to the fact that everyone has a unique finger print or iris etc. and therefore forgery of these kinds of access methods is a difficult task.
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An advantage of physical biometrics is the prevention and elimination of threats caused by the loss of ID’s and passwords. The way in which biometrics eliminate this problem of lost passwords or ID’s, is that it uses physical input, which will always be on the user wherever they are and in addition they are mostly un-detachable from the user. So the problem solved here is that when passwords or ID’s were lost, they could have been used to gain unauthorised access in different ways, however the elimination of these reduces vulnerability.
Some large organisations make use of long and hard to remember passwords which may cause difficulty of remembrance, however with the use of biometrics, users can be assigned to access the systems by the use of their biological credentials, eliminating the requirement of remembering a long password.
Another advantage of biometrics is that it is possible to have a network of this technology, so that it can be incorporated into a whole organisation, allowing access to buildings and rooms with verification of a person’s biological data. This will allow a central system to hold biological data of all authorised users and allow access to rooms and buildings to which they have authority to do so otherwise blocking any access.
In addition to this it is possible to record automatically information about who did what, where and when. So it is possible to log all accesses to different rooms by different users.
Another advantage of biometrics is that it is a cost effective method. The reason it is cost effective is that it doesn’t require ID cards which incur costs for materials and printing, instead the user simply use their own biological data to access systems and buildings.
Although biometrics seem like a good choice(contrary to popular belief), they do have major drawbacks. For example some forms of biometrics cannot be used in certain places. For example it is not suitable for people working in the Chemical industries(proof has been given at the end).
Another disadvantage is that biometric technology does not have a 100% success rate and can result in false positives and negatives. For example the human voice changes as we age or it differs when we may have a sore throat or a cold, and therefore identifying a person by their voice when they are ill can be extremely difficult. Imagine you have a very sore throat and you have to go to work to finish something urgent but you are not able to get into your office because the system cannot recognise you. Some forms of biometrics only work under certain conditions and almost all biometric systems cannot adapt to change.
Another example are individuals, who are affected by diabetes, have an effect which occurs within their eyes and therefore as a result, a biometric system may deny this individual access, due to the mismatch of data.
Another disadvantage is that biometrics is a relatively new technology solution which is still in the process of being perfected and therefore certain forms of biometric authentication is rather an expensive solution, although this may not apply to finger print scanners, it does apply to iris scanning, or DNA checking or hand geometry checking etc. Following on from the fact that the technology is relatively new and still in the stages of being perfected, it may be impractical to use some forms in an organisation or system, since it may not be working to its best potential. The technologies used in biometric systems are rather complex, hence the reason for high costs for such systems.
One major disadvantage is that such systems require large amounts of storage space, as each authorised persons data will be required to be stored so that it can later be checked. This can incur large costs and the requirement for an administrator who maintains this database of stored information. Leading on from this, biometric methods require the storing of personal data, and some users may find this intrusive and therefore may neglect use of such a system. In addition to data integrity, some forms of biometric identification may not be accepted by some people, for example some people may believe retinal scanning could be potentially harmful, and therefore they may choose not to use it.
Another disadvantage is that some forms of biometrics do still have security issues. For example someone’s voice can easily be recorded and used to gain unauthorised access if the biometric method used was voice recognition.
Biometrics is a new technology with huge potential. It offers a higher level of security which requires very unique data to gain access. Another point to consider is that with this technology ID cards and passwords will no longer be necessary and therefore this will result less fraud and unauthorised use of such identities and passwords. However we do believe there is one issue which will affect most of the population, this issue is the issue of personal data being stored on a database, which may for some be highly intrusive. On a few occasions the Government has already failed us by loosing data personal to use. Therefore what is to say that our biometric information stored on computer systems is not vulnerable to being “lost” or “misplaced” as has happened with other forms of data. Biometric data is highly security. If it is lost one cannot change their ‘password’.
Biometrics is now being implemented into many different areas, and its usage is ever increasing. We will provide a few examples of where it is used currently in the UK. All new British passports will have a chip within them which contain biometric data, which holds information such as distance between eyes, nose, mouth etc. This will help prevent fraudulent passports which may be used for suspicious activities. About 4 years ago, the Government was considering issuing every British Citizen with an ID card which would hold biometric data of the person. However this operation was cancelled and will not be further pursued. Currently in the UK biometrics information is used for finger print checks on visa applicants at the border to ensure that the person entering the UK is the same as the person who applied to enter the UK. Biometrics have long been in use by the police force who keeps record of finger prints of previous criminals to help identify cases in the future.
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