Biometric innovations have moved at a rapid pace in the past few decades, so what once seemed like tools from science fiction are now commonplace. Many of us now unlock our smartphones with a fingerprint or our face, and, with 150 nations now using biometric data in passports, growing numbers of travellers will use their physical identity to pass international borders.
But while we may be used to biometric technology in these areas, innovations are set to revolutionise our day-to-day lives, from paying for goods to driving to work. So, just what does the future hold for biometrics, an already innovative industry?
Embracing new biometric technology
Currently, we’re seeing the fastest adoption of biometric technology in the payment sector. China has been quick to accept these biometric payment tools through phone apps. On Singles’ Day 2018, their biggest e-commerce shopping event, 60% of customers paid either by scanning their fingerprint or taking a selfie.
But 2019 has been the year that biometrics started to shake up the physical payment cards sector too. Earlier this year, two UK banks, Natwest and Royal Bank of Scotland, trialled bank cards featuring integrated biometric fingerprint sensors. With fingerprint authorisation in bank cards, it will remove the need for PINs while paying for goods in stores, even for payments over £30.
Although still new to the high street, biometric payment technology is already advancing at a rapid pace and soon fingerprint sensor cards will feature a digital dynamic display. This display technology will replace the easily stolen three-digit CVV number on the back of the card with a digital window. Then, when the card is authorised by the owner’s fingerprint, it will generate a unique code for each shopping experience. With retailers set to lose $130bn between now and 2023 due to fraud in Card-Not-Present transactions, digital CVVs will provide far greater security and peace-of-mind for both retailers and customers while shopping online, or over the phone.
The business security world is also rapidly embracing biometric authentication methods. Nearly 90% of businesses will be using some form of biometric security in the workplace by 2020. Of those, 57% will adopt fingerprint scanners to open office doors, log in to IT systems, update timesheets and access secure data centres.
Governments too have started to embrace the benefits of biometric security to manage national identity schemes and public services on a vast scale. In Mexico, for example, Sonora state has adopted biometrics in a trial to distribute state benefits on fingerprint-authorised prepayment cards. Meanwhile, India’s Aadhaar programme is the largest biometric population database in the world, with more than 1.17 billion citizens registered through fingerprint and iris data. This programme has allowed the Indian government to streamline delivery of welfare schemes, by providing accurate population data and confidence that multiple duplicates have been removed from their database.
Driving new sectors
With biometric technology becoming increasingly familiar, authentication has started to play an important role in more sectors and our everyday actions beyond the world of finance.
Earlier this year, Hyundai launched a car for the Chinese market which features fingerprint scanners to unlock and start the vehicle – making lost car keys a thing of the past. Even more advanced, Bentley’s Car of the Future, its prediction for how cars will look and function in 2035, features biometric seats which will recognise who is in the driving seat and instantly configure temperature, car settings and seat position to match. With these seats, the self-driving car will monitor driver comfort, eye and head movements, and even blood pressure, to perfect the driving experience.
Schools too, have begun adopting biometric authentication for pupils. In Edinburgh, three-quarters of state-run secondary schools have rolled out fingerprint scanning for library book borrowing and cashless catering. Pupils scan their finger to approve payment for school meals from an account set up by parents or guardians, increasing the security of pupils’ funds, as well as the speed of the lunch queue.
Even in the humanitarian sector biometrics are making an impact to support displaced people across the world. A pilot programme in Uganda is registering refugees through fingerprint scanners, restoring confidence in the number of aid beneficiaries and resources needed by the relief scheme after years of inaccuracy and fraud. In Jordan and Yemen, the World Food Program is also authenticating refugees with iris scanning. This extra identification allows vulnerable benefit holders to withdraw welfare allowances at ATMs, receive groceries and healthcare, securely and with limited risk of threat or fraud.
Biometrics: the next generation
As the biometric industry matures even further over the next few years, the emergence of ground-breaking new technologies and forms of authentication will take us ever closer to that sci-fi vision of the future. So that we could soon be scanning not just our fingerprint, but our keyboard strokes or our moods as well.
Behavioural pattern analysis or ‘behaviometrics’ are currently leading this next generation of emerging technologies. This combines multiple behaviour signals we do unconsciously – like typing, holding our phone in a certain way or walking with a particular gait, into one detailed individual profile. While not an entirely new idea – telegraph operators used to authenticate their work through typing characteristics as early as the 19th century – ‘behaviometrics’ are still an edge case authentication method we can expect to see developing more over the next few years.
In the lifestyle world, fitness trackers of the future will monitor anxiety levels, posture and even emotions, to monitor unusual patterns or alert us to developing health issues. If that wasn’t futuristic enough, brands are even beginning to incorporate these biometric trackers into clothing and jewellery to monitor our health factors without us even noticing.
Changes are close at hand for physical security too. Palm Vein Pattern Authentication (PVPA) is currently being trialled for the business security market, to recognise individuals from their unique palm vein structure. Palm veins are present in the subsurface of the skin and not apparent under visual light, making them very difficult to duplicate and good for providing secure access to corporate computing, data centres and office buildings.
Securing the future
While these emerging new biometric methods and technologies are attention-grabbing, two-factor authentication to combine these with another stable biometric feature is vital to make the payments process, or access to devices and accounts, completely protected. Of all biometric signals, fingerprints are still the most secure and remain the most stable throughout our life, not being affected by changes due to age, weight gain, or even a decision to type faster than normal.
As the benefits of biometric authentication emerge in ever more areas of our lives, producers and manufacturers of biometric technology must act responsibly and work hard to protect security risks to user data and identities. When secure, emerging biometric technology has the potential to enhance all areas of our lives, bringing us one step closer to the future.
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