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Biometrics authentication: Where the technology is now — and where it’s going

Complex technology systems, new stringent data protection regulations, sophisticated cyberattacks, cyberterrorism, state-sponsored hacking, and the ubiquity of the Internet overall are driving the need for new methods of system and data protection. In this context, biometrics technology has established itself as the most effective, accurate, reliable, and quick means of user identification and authentication. While it was previously the preserve of governments and billion-dollar corporations, biometrics and biometrics authentication have seen rapid adoption thanks to the falling prices of sensors and related systems, huge gains in accuracy, and growing acceptance by the public.

Biometrics tech uses the unique physical or behavioral attributes of an individual to verify their identity. It works by first capturing the user’s data and creating a biometrics template. The template is then what subsequent user data captures are compared to in order to determine resemblance. There are different biometrics types used for authentication and identification systems. We can expect these to increase as the technology evolves.

1. Facial recognition


Among biometrics types, facial recognition is the oldest. It has existed for as long as humanity and precedes modern information systems by thousands of years. Even babies will identify family and friends from a very early age by looking at memorizing faces. With the proliferation of information technology, facial recognition has moved from being an error-prone manual process to an automated, precise one.

Facial recognition systems measure face geometry based on dozens of nodal points. Nodal points are endpoints, including eye socket depth, cheekbone shape, nose length, and mouth width. The dimensions are then transformed into a unique signature that is the basis for future authentication.

2. Voice recognition

Voice as a means of interpersonal recognition goes as far back as humanity’s ability to speak. The shape of each person’s vocal tract, including the larynx, mouth, and nose, determined what sound they produced. Nevertheless, voice always took a back seat to face recognition as it was more prone to false positives.

Modern voice recognition systems, however, don’t rely on a human’s ability to recognize who a voice belongs to. Instead, they extract detailed measures of the person’s tone, accent, variations, frequency, cadence, inflection, speech pace, and more, to develop a unique vocal signature for user authentication.

3. Fingerprints

Fingerprint recognition was arguably the first form of biometrics identification that found mass systematic application. It measures the unique arches, loops, whorls, and ridges on an individual’s fingers as well as the outlines of furrows, edges, and minutiae. Once the print is captured, the authentication algorithm will create a unique digital template.

Each new fingerprint scan is subsequently compared to this template to confirm that the individual requesting access is indeed who they say they are. Fingerprint biometrics are used in everything from door locks to banking systems.

4. Hand/finger veins

In general, biometrics authentication is difficult to hack. Still, certain biometrics types are harder to compromise than others. Hand/finger vein patterns are more difficult to circumvent not only because of their complexity but also, unlike fingerprints, they occur deep under the skin surface. The biometrics template is created by using infrared light to digitize an image of the blood vessels.

5. Hand geometry

Hand geometry is the measurement of hand dimensions and characteristics such as finger width and length, finger curvature, and finger position. It once showed great promise and seemed on course to become one of the leading authentication biometrics types. However, its relevance and use have diminished with the advances made in facial recognition and fingerprint biometrics software.

6. Iris recognition


The iris comprises thread-like but thick muscles that shape the pupil and determine how much light goes into the eye. Iris biometrics authentication relies on measuring the folds of these muscles, an attribute that is unique for each person.

The authentication process may include a liveness test, such as blinking. This is meant to guard against an attacker gouging out and using the eye of an authorized individual for access.

7. Retina scan

Retina scans use near-infrared cameras to identify the pattern of capillaries deep inside the eye. Given the degree of detail, the initial raw image is first enhanced through preprocessing and then converted into a biometrics template meant for user verification and enrollment.

8. DNA matching

Of all biometrics authentication types, DNA matching is the only one that can aid in tracing familial ties. And other than fingerprints, it’s the only one that may be left behind, thereby helping in forensic investigation. DNA matching is primarily used in disaster victim identification, missing persons search, and human trafficking investigation.

DNA captured from blood, saliva, semen, hair, nails, and more contains short tandem repeat sequences (STRs) that can be compared to the STRs in a criminal or missing persons’ database to confirm their identity.

9. Gait

A gait is the coordinated cyclic combination of a person’s movement that leads to locomotion. With the rise of computer technology, it’s now possible to capture this as an individual’s signature and, therefore, as a means of identification.

Gait biometrics authentication identifies the individual’s stride patterns through video imaging. This mapped data is transformed into a mathematical equation. Gait biometrics finds application in crowd surveillance or building security since its unobtrusive. You can keep tabs on a subject from afar.

10. Thermography

A thermogram is an infrared image showing distribution of heat energy. A biometrics thermography system captures the patterns produced as the person’s blood moves beneath facial skin. Since blood vessel patterns are unique, biometrics thermograms are distinct even among identical twins. This, therefore, makes this method of authentication more accurate than standard facial recognition systems.

11. Ear channel shape

Unlike most other biometrics types, ear channel shape systems do not rely on cameras to capture the subject’s measurements. Instead, special headphones relay inaudible sound waves and therefore create a unique measure of the ear’s acoustics. A microphone captures the reflection of the sound waves as they bounce off the walls of the ear canal in different directions. A digital copy of the capture is then used as an authentication template.

Biometrics authentication: Hot now and growing

Biometrics technology addresses the need for organizations, premises, and systems to prove an individual’s identity. Biometrics guarantees a degree of accuracy and security that is virtually unachievable with traditional user authentication techniques. And unlike passwords, documents, and badges, it’s extremely difficult to forge, steal, or exchange. The global biometrics market is expected to exceed $50 billion by 2024.

Featured image: Pixabay

Stephen M.W.

Stephen regularly writes about technology, business continuity, compliance and project management. He's worked with companies such as,, and Citibank.

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Stephen M.W.

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