Apple Face ID And The Growth Of Biometrics

Every industry has its standard bearers. From Volvo’s in-car safety systems to Amazon’s ecommerce innovations, some companies are naturally adept at setting industry standards. Apple is another company seemingly capable of second guessing the future, and their flagship iPhone X represents a giant leap forwards in biometrics – one of the most widely-discussed aspects of modern digital security.
Biometric security replaces traditional identification methods like PINs or tap codes with unique biological data belonging to a specific individual. The iPhone X uses a series of front-facing cameras and projectors to create a 3D model of a user’s facial features, with the saved profile stored offline to prevent hacking. Looking at the phone is enough to unlock it, though a passcode backup is still offered in case Face ID is unable to identify someone. And while Apple’s system isn’t foolproof – it won’t work if the phone is held horizontally, for instance – it’s an intriguing glimpse into the future of data security.
As our lives increasingly move online, security is going to be more important than ever for managing and protecting our daily activities. That’s particularly true given the loss of public confidence in conventional ID techniques, from PIN skimmers at ATMs to the endless news stories about stolen passwords and compromised accounts. Conventional methods of typed account security have provided insufficient barriers to cyber criminals on many occasions, quite apart from the challenges of remembering numerous passwords or resetting forgotten login credentials. And since the twenty most common four-digit PIN codes are used for more than a quarter of accounts, educated guesswork can often bypass these outdated security methods.
Biometric security is an industry set for seismic growth, as early adopters demonstrate what can be achieved and consumers embrace the greater convenience on offer. Point-of-sale cameras in Chinese KFC outlets can already verify someone’s identity with a 3D camera, enabling pre-registered account holders to pay for goods by smiling. Visa has seen an enthusiastic response to surveys about fingerprint recognition, while banks are adopting iris-scanning technology for mobile banking customers.
It’s been estimated that the biometric authentication market will be worth almost $50 billion within three years’ time. However, it’s currently unclear which methods of ID will become most prevalent within this burgeoning industry.

These are some of the biometric security systems currently being developed and trialed:

  1. Fingerprint/thumbprint identification. Many analysts predict fingerprint IDs will come to dominate biometrics. Adult prints never change, while scanning is easy, accurate and cost-effective. It does require a clean, bare hand, and can’t be used by children.
  2. Hand scan. At a higher cost, larger hand scanners can perform a similar job to fingerprint touchpads. Ironically, they don’t perform as accurately, though hand scanners are easy to use and less susceptible to dirt than fingerprint readers.
  3. Eye scan. It’s possible to identify someone by scanning either their iris or their retina, and it’s unclear which option will come to dominate the industry. Neither is entirely practical, demanding removal of eyewear while the user refrains from blinking.
  4. Facial recognition. This is a cheaper alternative to the data-hungry files generated by iris and retinal scanning. However, it’s less accurate than iris or fingerprint recognition, and it’s unsuitable for people wearing religious face coverings.
  5. Voice analysis. Assuming you’re not struggling with a cough or cold, voice analysis is a low-tech ID method requiring only a microphone. It’s socially acceptable, but accuracy levels aren’t great and a recording could potentially fool the system.
  6. Signature recognition. Freehand signature sketches are accepted by delivery drivers, so extending them to personal accounts might seem obvious. In truth, it would require a stylus rather than a fingertip, and accuracy levels remain disappointingly low.

Each option has particular flaws and drawbacks – facial recognition software struggles in wet outdoor conditions, while voice analysis won’t respond sympathetically to people suffering with colds and flu. It may be that a combination of biometric data is required to unlock tomorrow’s electronic devices, or access our personal data. What’s certain is that we probably won’t have to remember dozens of PIN numbers and passwords for much longer – as iPhone X customers will be able to testify…