Thanks to the dark web, cyberattacks and account takeover fraud, authenticating users’ identities is an ever-evolving challenge — but one that biometric authentication can help solve.
Biometric authentication verifies a user’s identity based on unique biological traits such as retinas, facial features, fingerprints and even voice. Each time a user accesses their account, the biometric security system compares and matches data collected at login to the biometric data on file.
Unlike traditional identity authentication methods, biometric factors are specific to individual users and aren’t easily replicated or stolen, making it a more secure and reliable verification method compared to traditional identity verification practices.
Traditional Methods of Identity Authentication
The fraud landscape is evolving quickly, pushing network administrators to implement more sophisticated authentication methods. Traditional methods used for network security are becoming easier to bypass, especially as cybercriminals become more savvy.
Here are some examples:
- Password-based authentication: Unique usernames and passwords are standard for online accounts, but even a “strong” password isn’t secure enough with today’s phishing scams and dark web databases. Users also tend to use the same password across multiple online accounts or share their passwords with friends and family, increasing the risk of account takeover.
- Knowledge-based authentication: KBA relies on secure “secret” questions to verify a user’s identity. But unfortunately, most authentication questions are easy to crack with social engineering and personal information available online. Requiring answers to more difficult questions only increases user frustration and adds to the list of things they need to remember.
- Token-based authentication: A token uses a tangible device to grant user access, such as a card, app or key fob. While this does make it more difficult for a hacker to slip through the cracks, token-based authentication is difficult to scale across large or distributed customer bases.
- Two-factor authentication: Two-factor authentication requires two different signals to access an account. For example, a user may need to input a code sent via SMS or email in addition to a password. This two-signal process can add friction to the login process and cause customer frustration, and it’s no longer recommended by NIST because of its susceptibility to man-in-the-middle and snooping attacks.
While a combination of methods can make it more difficult for cybercriminals to get through, even multi-factor authentication processes do little to completely stop hackers from attempting to fraudulently access accounts.
Biometric Authentication Technology: How Biometric Security Works
Biometric authentication systems depend on a user’s unique biological characteristics to verify their identity. Types of biometric authentication methods include:
- Fingerprint scanners
- Retina scans and iris recognition
- Voice recognition
- Face recognition
- Liveness detection
A biometric identification system compares and attempts to match two sets of identifiers: one gathered by the account owner when the account was opened, and the other collected from the visitor attempting to access the account. If the software deems the two identifiers a match, access to the account is granted.
Biometric Identity Verification: The Biometric Authentication Process Step By Step
Here’s a step-by-step explanation of how facial recognition, one of the most popular forms of biometric identity verification, works.
Step 1: ID Document Capture
New users are prompted to upload a picture of a government-issued photo ID (e.g., driver’s license, passport) when setting up an account. Artificial intelligence and machine learning inspect the ID, checking against known ID templates to ensure its authenticity.
Step 2: Selfie Capture
The user captures a selfie, which is then compared to the ID photo. Using biometric information, the software runs a similarity check in real time to ensure it’s the same person in both photos.
Step 3: Biometric Template Created
Advanced biometric solutions will complete a liveness check and ensure that the selfie is not a spoof or deepfake. The biometric template created at this stage is then stored and bound to the new customer account.
Step 4: Online Account Created
If the biometric data points match, the new user can continue to create an online account. This includes being given account credentials, such as a username and password.
Step 5: Ongoing User Authentication
Any time the user accesses their account with the correct credentials, the facial recognition system captures a new selfie, then creates a new biometric template and compares it to the original template to unlock the user’s digital identity in seconds.
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The Advantages of Biometric Authentication
Here are a few advantages of using biometric authentication over more traditional identity verification methods:
Traditional authentication methods like KBA and SMS-based 2FA act more like a hurdle than a roadblock. Thanks to large-scale data breaches and identity theft, it’s easy for fraudsters to bypass these systems if they’re willing to put in just a little bit of work.
Face-based recognition technology offers a much more secure way to validate the user’s identity. Biometric data can’t be hacked or duplicated, and accounts remain secure even if the user’s device is stolen.
Improved identity assurance can lead to higher trust and loyalty in the brand, facilitating strong, long-term customer relationships.
Ease of Use & User Experience
For almost anyone who owns a smartphone, facial recognition and fingerprint-scanning technology are used multiple times a day. Apple’s Face ID has played a huge role in making biometric authentication mainstream.
Both face-based authentication and fingerprint recognition are quick and easy to use. The entire process takes just a few seconds to complete, creating a virtually friction-free experience for users. Account owners can rest easy knowing their data is secure without needing to jump through complicated hoops to keep it that way.
Face-based biometrics can prevent hackers from gaining unauthorized access to accounts and in some cases, even deter fraudsters from attempting to access an account entirely. The threat of having their picture captured can scare cybercriminals away.
Companies that are adopting biometric authentication — and their numbers are growing — are providing stronger authentication and helping make security invisible to their customers, resulting in higher conversion rates, higher rates of fraud detection, and higher customer satisfaction.
Emerging Use Cases of Biometric Authentication
Biometric authentication can be applied to more than just granting account access. Here are other opportunities to apply biometric security systems:
- Authorize high-risk or high-value actions: Requiring a selfie before facilitating high-value transactions like wire transfers or online purchases can reduce illegitimate purchases and fraudulent activity.
- Automate self-check-in: Biometric authentication can create self-service check-ins for flights, hotels, car rentals and more, eliminating long wait lines and boosting security.
- Update user credentials: Face-based verification methods ensure credential changes, like updating a password, are always performed by the owner of the account, preventing account takeovers.
- Verify e-learning: Biometric security can prevent cheating in online education spaces by verifying the correct student is completing exams and course materials.
Biometric Technology: Improve Cybersecurity With Jumio
While we may be a few years away from killing the password, face-based authentication is taking off in popularity — and for good reason. Biometric authentication gives consumers confidence that their accounts and personal data are well protected while also allowing businesses to streamline and modernize their approach to digital security.
Originally published July 17, 2019; updated January 24, 2024