Biometric Technology

Biometric technology driving us forward and enhancing our quality of life.

What Is Biometric Technology?

There’s all of this talk about “biometrics” and “biometric technology” yet the meaning is fairly nebulous. I’m here to clear that up for you.

Biometrics, defined by our friend Webster, is:

the measurement and analysis of unique physical or behavioral characteristics (as fingerprint or voice patterns) especially as a means of verifying personal identity

So what does that mean?

That means that biometric technology, in it’s simplest definition, is technology that interacts with the body or some part of the anatomy or physiology of a person.

What is biometric technology going to look like in 20 years? Well, first let’s start with where we have come from…

Overview of the History of Biometrics

As early as the late 1800’s researchers have found databases of rudimentary fingerprints of criminals in Argentina. Around that same time another man, named Francis Galton, was developing his own theory of fingerprints and physiognomy. Throughout the 1900’s and into the early 2000’s, the field of biometrics has continued to grow quite rapidly to what it is today.

Where is it?

Well, today a large number of countries use some form of biometrics in their criminal justice systems as well as their immigration and customs systems. Recent developments and advances in biometrics also include:

  • Electroencephalogram (brain biometrics)
  • Electrocardiogram (heart biometrics)

Interestingly, researches at the University of Kent have uncovered that people have certain distinct patterns of brain and heart activity which could someday be used to identify people in a very precise manner. The technology isn’t quite there yet but is coming along and really gives a glimpse into what could be possible in the future of biometrics.

Biometric technology has come a long way, but it is definitely moving forward at an exponentially faster rate:

biometric technology products

Graph forecasting biometric market into 2024

Biometric Technology will explode over the next 10 years... it isn't a question of "if" it's a question of "how much?"

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How Is Biometric Technology Changing?

Biometric technology is getting cheaper, better, and more reliable. At the same time, biometric products, or products that use our biology to some degree (think heart rate monitors, finger print scanners, etc) are growing in popularity at an incredible rate.

A few years ago, biometric products were not easily accessible to the general public; now they are plentiful and readily available.

Certain products have benefited more from the advances in biometric technology than others. On this page, you’ll see some examples of some pretty cool technology driven by the human body.

From the seemingly simple to the creatively complex, biometric’s have a way of capturing our imagination. There are also a lot of examples of common products with integrated biometric technology like pistol grips; things that have been added to make them a little bit better.

Here we go:

There are a whole host of biometric products that are out there on the market, a simple Amazon search will turn up hundreds. We have covered a few in depth here and will continue to add more as time goes on.

  • Calorie Counters / Heart Rate Monitors
  • Access Control - doors, computers, USB thumb drives
  • Biometric Safes
  • Body Fat Reading Scales
  • Time Clocks for Employees
  • Pistol Grips and Triggers

Biometric Access Control

Biometric access control is one of the key uses of biometrics. One of the great things about biometrics is that it reads your individual, unique body signatures and uses them for a specific function. Doors secured with a fingerprint authentication lock are easily opened without fumbling through your pocket for keys.

But, that’s not it.

Biometrics are used to secure things both physical and digital. A fingerprint can just as easily be used to open up a safe or a front door as it can to unlock the contents of a flash drive or get into a computer. Take, for example, the new iPhones. They use a biometric fingerprint scanner to unlock for only the accepted users.

Look:

There are several types of biometric access control and many are being applied, but here is a list of a few of the most common:

  • Retinal scans
  • Fingerprint scans
  • Electroencephalogram (brain biometrics)
  • Electrocardiogram (heart biometrics)

…and many, many others. Which leads us to our next point: Using these unique signatures to enhance security.

Biometric Security

As discussed, one of the main functions for biometrics, outside of hospitals, is security. Now, again, just to quickly define the term, biombetric security is a security mechanism to authenticate or identify someone based on a combination of biology and mathematics. If you’re confused, watch the video above.

Why is this important?

It’s important to understand what biometric security is and what it isn’t. It is, for example, a great way to keep super secure areas super secure. Biometric data is very, very hard if not impossible to replicate. A security card with an RFID chip, which is common place in many organizations, can be handed off from one person to another.

An access card can also be lost, stolen, or replicated. Biometric data is much harder to replicate or steal. We’ve all seen the movies where that happens, but in reality it is much more secure.

And the catch is…

Biometric security is costly and time consuming. We aren’t (yet) at the point where a person can just simply walk by a scanner and have it reliably pick up that persons biometric signals to identify them ‘on the fly.’ That day is undoutedly coming. Currently, though, the process is slower than simply swiping a badge and walking on by.

The bottom line:

Biometric security is great in certain, specialized applications where there throughput isn’t an issue but security is paramound.


Let's Take A Look at Some Methods of Biometric Security

  • Biometric finger print scanner
  • Biometric hand scanner
  • retinal vs iris scanner

Retinal Scan vs Iris Scan

First off, a retinal scan and an iris scan are two different things. Without going into all the details (this guy does a good job) it's basically in the way that the scan functions and what it measures. While both are highly accurate tests that have very few false positives, there are certain differences in the two.

Essentially, retinal scanning is considered to be evasive and is much more costly than iris scanning. Most of the eyes we sees canned are indeed iris scans.

Accuracy Of Biometrics Question In Some Circles

As with any, biometric technology is not perfect. The accuracy of biometrics is frequently brought up in any conversation leaning towards biometrics being the future of access control. While there are certain issues, they are mostly negated in the higher-end products serving highly secured facilities and things of that nature.

There are still a few things that do occur from with limited frequency. Here is a quick list defining some terms used when talking about the accuracy of biometrics; terms like false acceptance rate and false rejection rate, etc:

  • False rejection rate (FRR) occurs when the system fails to identify an authorized person.
  • False acceptance rate (FAR) - the likelihood that an unauthorized person will gain access. The false acceptance rate formula is usually the ratio of false acceptances divided by the number of attempts. This is also known as the false acceptance rate calculation.

What Is An Average False Acceptance Rate (FAR) In Biometrics?

This depends on the type of biometric verification being used. According to http://csrc.nist.gov/, the stats for the testing they did are as follows:

Type of Biometric ID

Probably of Verificaton

FAR

FRR

Fingerprint Biometrics Accuracy

90%

1%

9%

Face Verification Biometrics Accuracy1

90%

1%

9%

Face Verification Biometric Accuracy2

70%

.01%

29.99%

As we can see, there is no perfect system. The more strict you make the requirements to reduce the FAR you also increase the FRR. This is a delicate balance that will have to be figured out and honed as time goes on.

A point of caution: One other salient point to consider is that biometic data, fingerprints and DNA, is pretty easily obtained by people that have the skills to do so. It’s getting much easier to collect those items at crime scenes which would indicate that the criminals will also be able to do so to fulfill their nefarious agendas.


Types of Biometrics

types of boimetricsThere are really three different types of biometrics that are lumped together most of the time. Technically, there are several more but they are all subsets of the three main categories. For example, DNA could be considered a chemical biomeric. That is, however, just a subset of a physical biometric.

These different types are:

  • Physical
  • Behavioral biometrics
  • Auditory
  • … a few others that are much less common

These 3 broad category types of biometrics are the most commonly used in the products and services that most people touch in their every day life.

Let’s take a closer look.

Let’s analyze each one and give an example of where it is currently being used.

Behavioral Biometrics

Behavioral biometrics is the study of a persons behavior as it relates to measurable patterns in human activities. Here are a few examples of these patterns that can be measured fairly well:

  • Gait – walking, jogging, shuffling, etc
  • Hand writing
  • Typing

As you can see, the speed with which someone does those things and the different patterns exhibited can be mathematically analyzed to come up with a unique signature for each unique person.

Pretty neat stuff.

 Physical Biometrics

This is the one most people are familiar with. This is anything that is related to the physical body and can be measured.

Some examples here are:

  • DNA
  • Fingerprints
  • Retina
  • Iris
  • Finger and hand shape
  • Ear shape
  • Vein recognition – used in hand scanners for the most part

Some simple visual recording tools and access to a powerful computer with biometric analysis on it could create an interesting place to live.

Auditory

Auditory biometrics are generally used in voice recognition.

This was a quick overview of the different types of biometrics. It gets much more advanced and nuanced however this is enough to get someone interested in biometrics started without getting them overwhelmed.

photo credit: NEC Corporation of America Solutions for Society Biometrics – Creative Commons via photopin (license)