Monday, September 5, 2011

Biometrics: protection or violation?

In light of the current talk about the Israeli biometric database, we'll preview the main advantages of biometrics. In the next post we'll present the disadvantages. The objective of this post is not to state an opinion but to shed light on the topic

Authentication is one of the most widely used forms of security and serves as the most basic security mechanism. Biometrics technology refers to the automatic identification of a person based on his or hers physiological or behavioural characteristics. Together, biometrics authentication technology can be seen as the future trend of security systems.

Biometric devices consist of a reader or scanning device, software that converts the scanned information into digital form, and wherever the data is to be analyzed, a database that stores the biometric data for comparison with previous records. There are many different types of biometrics systems available, for example, fingerprint based systems. Fingerprint systems are the most common type of biometrics and work by scanning the tips of one or more fingers and comparing the scans against known images stored in a dedicated database. Likewise with similar functionalities, there are several systems, such as facial recognition, voice scan and other scientific biometric approaches.

Biometrics is a fast developing technology that has important implementations in various areas of activity, civil and security (counter-terrorism) alike. Many applications can achieve security improvement through biometric use, by drastically reducing the risks of the system's security being compromised but also by eliminating the need for much of the operation and management overhead. This post's goal is to look at the various advantages offered by this technology and to answer questions regarding biometric security effectiveness, privacy concerns and why this technology will surely have a positive influence on many aspects of our life.

The first advantage that can be noted is the enhancement of system security by implementing this accurate and reliable mechanism. This method of handling security issues in a technological and fast manner is preferred over traditional methods involving passwords and PIN numbers for various reasons. First of all, the person to be identified is required to be physically present at the point of identification and secondly, identification based on biometric techniques eliminates the need to remember a password or carry a physical token. With biometric technology protecting your systems, fraud and compromising of system security by a foe is not likely and can be dealt with in various ways. The direct benefit of improved system security is keeping meaningful confidential information safe, an achievement that improves company revenues and overall efficiency of an organization.

Another important advantage that can be obtained with biometric systems is the identification of terrorism and criminal suspects. The September 11, 2001 attacks are definitely a milestone that changed people's attitudes toward its use. Americans and the international community overwhelmingly approved of the use of biometric technology in airports and in public facilities in order to pursue suspected terrorists. Positive results, the capture and identification of terrorists, aroused highly persuasive arguments in favor of biometric systems, claiming that they can work, and help identify suspects who have already been identified as criminals or members of criminal or terrorist networks.

Privacy is one of the most important features of any commercial application, especially in a biometric environment. Concerns about privacy violation are believed to be the main flaw of biometric authentication and its accompanied infrastructure (databases that hold private information and intimate characteristics). There is no doubt that users will be apprehensive about making their most intimate characteristic available for scrutiny. In response to these important issues, policy leaders and system regulators have implemented and enforced government regulations that subjugate the biometric infrastructure to liable and trusted authorities, an act that lessens and in cases eliminates privacy concerns.

In conclusion, biometric authentication technology displays unique attributes that will leave their positive marks in everyday life. Some of these being:
1. System security improvement.
2. "Fighting" terror and crime.
3. Reduction in security operation and management overhead.
4. Simplifying daily tasks while enhancing security and reliability.

Hopefully the advancement in biometrics will continue at the present pace, standardizing the technology worldwide.