Consumer Biometrics in the Data Privacy Age

Dear Reader,

We have tried to analyze how organizations can use biometrics technologies and protect individuals’ privacy in the journey to high performance.

Ambimat Electronics with its experience of over 4 decades as an ODM of IoT products wishes to draw the attention of its customers and readers of blog posts towards the use of biometrics technologies.

Introduction

Data privacy is high on the global agenda. In the wake of data protection policies such as Europe’s GDPR, ensuring the integrity of personal data is an increasingly pertinent subject. This is a governmental and corporate policy reflection of the fact that our lives are moving increasingly online and, with it, our personal data is facing new and increased threats.

For all access to private data or services, we must be authenticated – this is the basis of privacy in the online world. But as PINs and passwords are increasingly viewed as insufficient to tackle this new reality, the world is looking to stronger authentication solutions, such as biometrics.

When implemented in the right way, biometrics will bring multiple benefits. It already enabled consumers to add layers of authentication to personal data previously unsecured in their owned devices – from apps and e-commerce to our homes and devices. But its potential is phenomenal. Consumer-driven authentication via our phones and tablets is already today by far the largest application of biometrics in the world, with figures in the billions that dwarf government-led identification schemes such as India’s Aadhaar and the FBI database.

Crucially though, it’s a privacy and security measure that consumers have the power and choice to implement. And as third parties, such as financial services, healthcare, and enterprise organizations, increasingly accept consumer biometrics authentication for their services, supporting the market’s continued adoption is an important and timely topic. But first, as biometrics creates its own sensitive personal data, there are a few points to clarify and discuss…

Consumers need confidence!

Undeniably, the success of existing applications of consumer biometrics is based on the advantages they offer consumers. Just look at the penetration and use of fingerprint biometrics in smartphones. But the success of future adoption will be determined by how confident consumers continue to feel in new situations. We’re frequently reminded not to use the same password or PIN multiple times, so it’s only natural consumers are beginning to feel concerned about their biometrics integrity as they start to utilize their fingerprint on multiple devices and apps: their phone, tablet, card, USB dongle…

In fact, consumer device authentication utilizes a ‘privacy by design’ approach that inherently protects end-user biometric data with an on-device authentication approach – where biometric data is enrolled, stored, and managed all on the same device. The following principles have been fundamental to biometrics’ privacy protection in mobile and are what will enable new benefits for consumers in other personal device-based scenarios:

Translating images to templates

It’s a common misconception that biometric data, such as fingerprints, are stored as images. And in turn, if this image is accessed, the corresponding fingerprint is permanently compromised and unable to be restored or used securely on other applications. You’ll have heard the argument about biometrics: “I can change my password any time, but I only have ten fingerprints; what happens if they’re all hacked?”

In fact, data from a biometric sensor is captured and stored as a template in binary code – or encrypted 0s and 1s. This mathematical representation makes hacking basically pointless as, even if fraudsters could access the template, they can’t do anything with it. Template code cannot be reverse-engineered into the original fingerprint image, nor can it be linked to other services and, in turn, other personal data. Moreover, this template is unique to the device it is on, making it impossible to re-use between devices, even if the same fingerprint has been enrolled!

The consumer is in control

This neatly leads on to my next point regarding storage. In consumer authentication use cases, information remains solely on the unique consumer device on which the template was created, remaining physically in control of the user.

Layers of security

Layering defense mechanisms is standard best practice for a range of security implementations – biometrics is no different. In addition to the transformation of biometric data into an irreversible template, these templates are also later encrypted and further protected by hardware and software both at rest and during the matching process.

The most successful example of a biometrics use case, the smartphone, utilizes the highly secure software isolation of Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) technology for storage and matching of biometric templates on the device. The hardware on which it runs is intrinsically secured through its high degree of integration, complexity, miniaturization, and specialization.

Removing the weakest link

Nothing is ‘un-hackable’, this is the reality of security. With enough time, money, and effort, it’s possible to get into anything. A safe, a bank vault. However, attackers take the path of least resistance, and often it’s the end-user that is the ‘weakest link’ in the security chain when it comes to social engineering attacks.

End-users are vulnerable to attacks, such as phishing, where they can be tricked into giving away information such as a PIN or password. With consumer biometrics, the user only presents their biometrics to their personal device and can’t give anything away. This also removes the risks generated by mistakes or complacency, such as creating a password that’s easily guessed.

More authentication = more protection

Biometric authentication can protect a whole host of other sensitive personal data, far more quickly, conveniently, and securely than was ever possible with PINs or passwords.

Today, however, passwords and PINs remain the most used authentication methods outside of smartphones – something increasingly problematic. The friction created by asking users to create a new password has a significant impact on drop-out rates – especially as new ‘best practice’ guidelines recommend complex requirements such as including numbers, capitals, special characters, and length. NIST’s digital identity guidelines outline the importance of usability challenges and stress, fundamentally, “positive user authentication experiences are integral to the success of an organization achieving desired business outcomes.”

Biometrics can be the authentication silver bullet as it combines security and a convenient UX, with leading fingerprint sensors authenticating in under a second. Its capacity to bring security to devices and processes previously either unsecured, poorly-secured or secured with a poor UX is phenomenal. Mobile is the perfect example of how it has been able to transform a device from being unsecured most of the time, to now only unlocked when in use. And now, just look at how your bank accepts your fingerprint authentication on your phone for access to your account.

With consumer biometrics, it is quick and effortless to enroll in new services and subscriptions. Consumers are happy to authenticate more frequently because it’s so simple and the action is so intuitive. Plus, you cannot forget your fingerprint…

Consumer biometrics

The combination of government and industry engagement is setting the scene for so much more to be achieved with consumer authentication using biometrics. Undoubtedly, biometrics’ role in an increasingly data-conscious world has only just begun to take shape, and excitingly, it’s consumers who have the power at their fingertips – quite literally!

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References:-

https://www.fingerprints.com/2020/04/06/in-consumer-biometrics-we-trust-authentication-for-the-data-privacy-age/

https://www.fingerprints.com/2019/12/17/biometric-payment-cards-where-are-we-now-2/?utm_source=iseepr&utm_campaign=PrivacyBlog