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Biometric Authentication Systems

Advances in technology have continued to change the way human beings interact with one another. From communication to identification, technology continues to impact albeit in multiple ways the manner in which human functions are done and executed. One of the recent advances in human identification is the use of biometric authentication systems in the areas of security and intelligence.Biometrics is the technology which verifies person’s identity by measuring his or her physical characteristics. It is an automated system, used to identify an individual based on his or her physical or behavioral patterns, and finding a match previously added to their database.

The use of biometric technology is common in modern security applications. This will continue to grow as people continue to advance in technology. This type of technology can be very expensive and has several downfalls.  With growing security concerns in a post 9/11 world and the increasing value of information, biometrics are likely to become the most secure means for accessing information and is likely to progressively replace other forms of identification, especially where sensitive applications are used.

Definition of Biometrics

Biometrics is a combination of two Greek words bio meaning life and metric meaning measure. Consequently, biometrics can loosely be defined as the measure of human characteristics(Branscombe, 2011). Biometry, or biometrics as it is commonly known, is the use of statistical investigation to biological data with a view of coming up with an exhibit. The biometric technology utilizes human bodies by identifying unique, distinctive, and measurable features for identification and access control in restricted areas. Biometrics technology allows the identification of behavioral or physiological characteristics of a person. It uses features like the face, fingerprints, voice, iris, and other measurable features of a human body. Biometrics technology has become a topic of interest in recent times, especially where computers and network security is concerned. 

History of Biometrics

According to Branscombe (2011), the use of biometrics systems probably dates back to the 14th century when it was first reported by Chinese explorer Joao de Barros. He mentioned that the merchants in China used palm and footprints stamped on the paper to distinguish the children from one another. This constitutes the earliest known use of biometrics applications. Palm prints and footprints are still in use today although the system has advanced greatly with automation.

With the increase in sophistication, the use of biometrics evolved in 1890s led to a system known as Bartillonage. It thus gained a worldwide fame as a tool for indentifying repeated criminal offenders who had changed in some features since their last conviction. The system developed by anthropologist Alphonse Bertillion relied on the unchanging features such as the size of the skull and the length of the fingers to identify one person from the other.  The system became popular among the police but later it was discovered that some people closely shared the features that were initially thought to be unique to each individual(Ashbourn, 2011). It was such challenges that led to advanced research resulting into today’s sophisticated biometric technologies.

Common Uses of Biometric Technology Today

The law enforcement agents such as police, national security forces, and international organizations like the Interpol and Europol mostly use biometric technology to identify suspects using the fingerprints or CCTV footages (Vacca, 2007). The collected characteristics of the suspect are compared with those found in the database held by the security agent. In airports, biometrics is used to enhance border security by verifying people who are leaving and entering the country.

Vacca (2007) observed that one of the most important advances in biometrics is the iris recognition. Biometrics is mostly used in entry control, dispenser machines, and government programs to control the kind of people that are allowed to access the certain areas. In organizations voice and iris recognition are used as the key to entry in some restricted areas where not everyone is allowed to enter. Biometrics heavily utilizes the fingerprints or a combination of several techniques to control access to the market stores, banks, and other areas that have controlled access.

Biometrics applications have also found use in the airports where scanning of passengers unique features, like the iris and the finger, is done in an effort to streamline the security (Vacca, 2007). The use of biometrics in airports represents the first major application of biometrics in business areas and is instrumental in helping to curb incidences of crime in airports and other terminal places. Recently biometrics is used in the area of internet banking. The developers of biometrics for internet banking hope that the system will be helpful to banks and vendors, who want to send high value documents, including wired money, to use biometrics authentication systems to avoid the possibilities of such documents getting into hands of the wrong people.

Types of Biometrics

Biometrics is broadly categorized into two branches(Ashbourn, 2011). The first is the physiological biometry that utilizes the human features that cannot be changed or imitated. Such human features include: face recognition, iris and retina, fingerprint, and the more common DNA characteristics to identify particular persons. The physiological biometrics is the most advanced form of all biometrics application even though it has also been found to contain inherent loopholes that could be taken advantage of by the would-be offenders. For instance, in the case of facial recognition systems, one could easily take a picture of the person that he or she intends to impersonate and send it to the system alongside his or her picture. Through manipulation and other sophisticated attacks, the person may get access to the area that he or she wants using a mirror picture of the real person.

The other branch is the behavioral biometrics that uses not so natural unique features like the signature, voice, the password, and the typing techniques of a person. In signatures biometrics analyses utilize unique features like the pen pressure and the slanting dimensions to identify a true signature from a fake one. Behavioral biometrics differentiates the voice recognition and the speech recognition as unique forms of identifying a person (Ashbourn, 2011).  

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Biometrics

As already indicated, biometrics applications are important tools in preventing crime or netting a criminal offender. As such, biometrics enhances the security in variety places including banks, airports, and offices where unauthorized people cannot get access to useful or sensitive information (Ashbourn, 2011). Biometrics provide the advantage of getting at the real offenders and can be useful where mistaken identity has occurred, in which in the absence of biometrics, an innocent person may end up spending entire life in custody for a crime he or she did not commit. Biometrics provides a more reliable security system in places that require ultimate security that may arise from the kind of business that goes on in that area. Biometrics technologies are instrumental in the reinforcement of security at the border entry because criminals cannot dare to move through such places knowing that they do not have other way to fool the security agents.

Branscombe (2011) indicates that biometrics applications are useful replacements for personal identification numbers that are prone to theft. It has provided a suitable way of ensuring that people do not lose their properties through theft of personal identifiers like numbers and signatures. Even though signatures are also a form of biometric technologies, their widespread use as trustworthy unique identifiers have only gained prominence with the digitalization of signatures that are not yet mostly applicable in many countries. 

Another advantage of biometrics is the high accuracy of analysis of results, which means that the findings of the investigators can be relied on as true evidences(Branscombe, 2011). The high accuracy enables people to have faith in the use of biometric systems and this helps to minimize confrontations in areas that require verification. For instance, passengers are likely to corporate with the security agents knowing that biometric systems are used for verification of data. Additionally, biometrics provides standardization across all countries that remove ambiguity in terms of verification. For instance, if fingerprint verification is applied in the United States, the system can be used elsewhere all over the world because fingerprints are unique to everyone in the world. The standardization of security reinforcement provides some law enforcers like Interpol and Europol to carry out their work in whichever country they are supposed to conduct their investigations.

Inverse of the above advantages are the disadvantages that biometric system provide both the users and their clients. Biometrics data requires sophisticated and complex storage systems that might be expensive in terms of storing and retrieving the data. As argued byBranscombe (2011), a good application is that which delivers more benefit to the organization it is serving than the costs of managing that application. However, biometrics systems are expensive and therefore most organizations which want to use them cannot afford the costs associated with running such a system. Biometrics systems are also subject to attacks by people who want to access the areas that they are not supposed to access. For instance, Branscombe (2011) observed thatcases of forging fingerprints through digitalization has struck the biometric experts with surprise as it emerges that the technology is not secure after all. Digital thumbprints can be injected in the communication systems of a biometric systems and therefore allow access to the restricted information after corrupting it.

Whither Biometrics Committee and the National Research Council (2010) found that most of the applications that use biometrics depend on two principles of authenticity and matching. That is, the biometric system verifies the data that has been entered by the user in the form that is allowed in the system. The system goes ahead to start matching data to establish whether it exists in the database. This means that biometrics rely on the unique identification of features to verify the data that is under investigation. However, they do not ensure the secrecy of the identification features and this leaves a loophole in the system since a person who wants to access given information and has the kind of data that the system accepts can use trial and error to gain access to the system(Branscombe, 2011). This only requires a bit of time and with persistent trial and error it is possible to fool the system for an entry.

Another disadvantage of biometric systems is the inability to handle failure well. For instance, in cases when the fingerprint are not available or identified as belonging to a particular person, it would be difficult to locate where a person is hiding even if the fingerprints are known to belong to a human being (Juels, Molnar and Wagner (2010). This is the challenge that results when people commit crimes and leaves fingerprints at the scene of crime. The biometric system cannot therefore help in locating the place where the owner of the identified feature is hiding.

Similarly, another problem of biometric systems is the inability to find a replacement once the original one was stolen. For example, if someone stole the digital certificate, it would be impossible to get back a similar feature since it is only one in the whole world. This means that the use of biometric systems and technology can allow some people to own stolen unique features while leaving the owner without a unique feature. As argued by Juels, Molnar and Wagner (2010), biometrics are powerful and useful tool of controlling access and enhancing security but they lack the important characteristics of a key. That is, biometrics applications might not be very much useful in cases when the user requires secrecy, randomness, as well as the ability to make updates as technology advances. What should be done is to improve the automation of the features and characteristics that define biometrics. However, the concept has remained the same even as the modern world continues to use the 14th century fingerprints as unique identifiers of people.

Future of Biometrics

According to Whither Biometrics Committee and the National Research Council (2010), the emerging biometrics is an important technological advancement that defines how organizations and businesses are controlling security in their places. Among the contemporary biometric systems are the adaptive multimodal biometric systems, complementary and supplementary information systems, and the physiological biometrics. Some of the applications in biometry are not yet fully advanced and researches are ongoing to come up with more reliable and effective biometric systems. Biometrics is quickly finding applicability in passport design, driving license certification, smart cards among others, that are increasingly becoming unique documents of identification. The government, on the other hand, is spending a lot of money investing in biometric security systems that are useful in the areas where it needs to have a controlled access for the public.

The increased government expenditure in biometrics systems is informed by the fact that they are turning out to be powerful tools in not only enhancing internal security but also combating international terrorism (Juels, Molnar and Wagner, 2010). The government of U.S is also contemplating initiating the international biometric standards that will allow the sharing of important information among countries to monitor the movement of terrorists.

The government’s projects concerning biometrics equipments and knowledge are to ensure that the security of the country is insured through mechanisms that will enable the capture of terrorists before they attack. Ultimately, it is expected that international biometrics standards will allow the sharing of information among countries interested in ensuring international peace. Juels, Molnar, and Wagner (2010) further note that “biometrics gives a new way to bringing terrorists’ true identities to light by taking away their greatest advantage of remaining characteristics unknown to the public and government”.


In conclusion, it is thus evident that biometrics provide a number of advantages to the provision of security by allowing the use of technology in the identification of criminals. In my opinion, biometrics technology has progressed at a slower pace when compared to other forms of technologies in this 21st century. A reason for this might be the lack of international biometrics standards or even a lack of resources by many countries to invest in the expensive technologies. However, there is still more to be done in the area of biometrics even as future prospects indicate that more unique human features like the brain and the heart might be the center of focus in future. The US governments need to support the development and adaptation of international biometrics standards that will allow other countries to share the data. This will be useful especially when the country wants to pursue international terrorists who have caused great damage to the country. In future, the US security is likely to be in a collective effort with other countries across the world, and this will be a departure from the current situation where the US strives all alone to improve the security situation both within and out of its borders while other countries hold important information about terrorists.

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