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Uniquely You – Using Biometrics

September 11, 2016

Are you using the fingerprint recognition feature on your smartphone or tablet? Did it give you a little James Bond kind of thrill the first time you did it? And doesn’t it make you feel more secure that your devices can now recognize and work just for you?

If you’re excited about fingerprint recognition, rejoice. It’s just the beginning of a new trend in biometric security, using unique physical characteristics to grant access to computers, phones, bank accounts, and more.

Businesses are worried about how easy passwords are to steal, so they are testing new kinds of account protection. Mastercard is testing an app that has cardholders take a selfie on their smartphones to confirm their identities. Google has a project to monitor your speech patterns, and healthcare providers are looking at biometrics to verify patient identity. Your identity can be authenticated from your fingerprints, palm prints, palm vein patterns, images of your face, iris, or retina, and your ear cavity measurements. You can also be identified from the way you type on a keyboard or walk, your voice, and even your brain waves or heartbeats.

If this kind of authentication makes you feel more secure, hang onto that warm, fuzzy feeling: It does provide another level of protection. However, it’s not 100% secure. For example, your fingerprint can be lifted from a glass with a gummy bear or Play-doh, and used to fool a fingerprint reader. (In action movies the bad guys always cut off someone’s finger, but that’s just because gummy bears don’t have the same shock value.) Some biometric apps can also be fooled by a photo or by playing back a voice recording.

The other issue is that use of data about your body parts is mostly unregulated, so you don’t know how companies are storing it, how they’re protecting it, and whom they might share it with. Data breaches happen all the time, and if hackers start stealing your biometric data, they’ll have one more tool to use to steal from you.

We’re in the early days of biometric authentication, but you’re going to see more and more businesses using it. As a citizen, customer, or patient, you have a right to privacy, so if you’re at all worried, speak up and ask how they’re protecting this very personal information. In the meantime, watch out for suspicious-looking characters with gummy bears.