Biometric world is here to stay to improve security

Dr David Lacey
Dr David Lacey Contributed

IT'S hard to gauge how the public at large views biometrics.

On the one hand, people tend to say they are security-conscious and by default would probably prefer to take the technology leap.

On the other hand, biometrics has a sense of big government and a true sense that a bit of us (physically) is known and used by others.

The truth is, we've been living in a biometric world for quite some time now.

Every time you go for a passport, your photo is captured for biometric purposes.

This allows Australians to flow through our Smart Gate technology without having to wait in line for a Border Force official to welcome you home.

The ATO is also in on the act with the ability for us to enrol our voice. This allows the ATO officer to determine who you are after the first word is spoken.

Criminal offending is a continuum. And so is security. It's about deterring the least committed.

Admittedly, if a criminal is going to advance in their criminal methods to defeat biometrics, the person doing this would be among the very committed and least deterred.

The same thing can be said about cyber security in general. Yes, there is an old acceptance that nothing is impenetrable, but it's really about fending off the least committed and least able. That's the sweet spot for most of us and it's the reason why governments and big corporates are getting into biometrics.

There are two ways biometrics can be defeated. The first is at the point of biometric usage. Either the biometric system is disabled or the measure of the biology is stolen and used.

Most famously this has been occurring with Smart Phone fingerprint scanning. It took German hackers 48 hours to hack into the iPhone 5S when it was launched in 2013.

In fact, so keen was the hacking community to prove the vulnerability of this form of biometric that some groups were posting rewards for the first to crack the code.

The second way is through hacking into the biometric system itself to implant a new biometric, alter existing ones or change the tolerance levels of what can pass as the correct biometric. Either way requires a high degree of skill beyond most criminals.

You may be asking what is the most secure biometric in use. Well, the answer is: it depends.

It depends on the confidence of the biometric measure itself because that's what a biometric system does. They give the asker of the biometric a measure of confidence that the biometric captured is the same measure as the biometric they have enrolled.

Each biometric can give the user a different degree of confidence.

Traditional biometrics are fingers and eyes. But there are many others including finger and hand geometry recognition (the 3D geometry of a finger), gait biometrics (your walking style), odour, vein, and even typing recognition.

The latter is about the unique characteristics of a person's typing. This may be particularly limiting for organisations trying to discern who are the two pointer finger-typing fiends among us.

Biometrics are here and here to stay. Don't expect too much from government here.

Our spending habits and insatiable appetite for the latest smartphone technology will continue to further our uptake whether we like it or not.

Professor David Lacey is managing director of IDCARE and a Senior Research Fellow at the University of the Sunshine Coast

Topics:  biometrics column david lacey technology

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