What is biometric authentication?

Biometric authentication is used by both businesses and individuals. But how exactly does it work?

If you’ve ever used facial recognition to unlock your phone or wondered how to passwordless authentication into your product, this blog is for you. This post will address the questions: what are biometrics; what is biometric authentication; how does it work, and why do we need it?

As businesses strive to improve security while providing a user-friendly experience, many are integrating biometrics into their user onboarding and verification process. Currently, user identification and verification has friction and inconvenience because individuals have to take multiple steps to prove they are who they say they are, whether it is entering a password, personal details, or receiving a one-time-password. The process is painful for the user and not particularly secure for businesses. Moreover, account takeovers and identity fraud are increasing risks. In a recent survey, nearly 92% of enterprises highlighted that biometric authentication proved highly effective when it came to verifying digital identities, as well as securing and storing data.

What are biometrics?

Put simply, biometrics are a way to measure human characteristics. They can be physiological traits such as our fingerprint, as well as behavioral traits like our gait or responses. Our individual biometrics allows us to be identified and authenticated based on unique and specific to us that is recognizable and verifiable.

Our unique biometrics allows for biometric identification — determining the identity of a person. In person, it can be someone checking your face with the passport you present. Technology today allows us to capture certain types of biometric information, such as their face, iris, their voice, or their fingerprint and match the collected information to a database. Since our biometrics are unique, it becomes a reliable method of verifying someone’s identity online — digital identity verification.

What is biometric authentication?

Biometric authentication refers to security processes that verify a user’s identity to grant access to an account or authorize transactions. Biometric authentication systems store this biometric data in order to verify a user’s identity when that user accesses their account. Because biometrics are unique to individual users, it significantly decreases the chance that someone can steal this information, as they could a password, or forge this information. This makes biometric authentication more secure when it comes to verifying the identity of individual users.

How do biometric authentication systems work?

Passbase biometric authentication demo video with a man with glasses putting his face in a circle and moving it closer according to the smartphone screen instructions. After he finishes, his identity is authenticated.

One of the most well-known forms of biometric authentication is unlocking a smartphone using facial recognition or accessing your bank account using your fingerprint. But how does biometric authentication work exactly?

There are ongoing concerns about how using biometrics may infringe on individual privacy or be used for mass surveillance. However, biometric authentication works using one-to-one face matching. This means that when a user scans their face, for example, to unlock their phone, the phone uses facial recognition technology to measure and verify unique characteristics of the presented face with the one that is stored with the phone to identify and authenticate the user. The facial matching technology is not running against a large database to find out who you are.

Another commonly misunderstood part of facial matching for biometric authentication is that your biometrics are not stored as a raw image in a database. Instead, facial recognition technology uses a camera to detect and scan faces in pictures or images and creates a facial signature that can be matched with the photo from a submitted piece of government photo ID, such as a passport, driver’s license, or national ID card. In other words, your biometrics are stored as a template reference and every time you scan your face again, the system checks how much it resembles the stored template. This face matching solution enables digital identity verification that is based on data privacy and security.

Of course, using biometric information such as your face can still have vulnerabilities. For example, if only a photo is required, perhaps a fraudster can steal a photo and use it for authentication. To increase security, Passbase identity verification and biometric authentication use a video selfie challenge where a user has to follow instructions and the camera records a video with multiple images. Using a video for biometric authentication enables liveness detection, the assurance that there is someone really in front of the device and that the face presented matches the user’s records.

Why do we need biometric authentication?

A Google and Harris Poll study in 2019, found that 75% of Americans are still struggling with password maintenance. Creating more secure and easier to use ways for people to authenticate themselves will help the next generation of businesses grow. Biometric authentication not boosts security for a business and its users while also improving customer experience.

With greater levels of identity assurance, improved customer retention and conversion rates, businesses are better equipped to protect their data from fraud, identity theft and account takeover.

Educating your users to build trust

While biometrics provide additional layers of security, data privacy remains a concern. Here’s where we face the question: What is biometric authentication’s role in protecting your data? An identity verification system that integrates data privacy and security into its biometric authentication process is a win-win for both businesses and end users.

However, end users need to be educated on why they are being asked to perform identity verification. If you are incorporating identity verification into your product or services, be sure to effectively communicate with your customers to build trust. For example, you can explain to an end user how using a third-party identity verification provider like Passbase can protect them from having their personal data used or resold. As an identity verification solution, Passbase has no incentive to sell user data nor any knowledge of what your user does with your services and your business also does not need to handle sensitive personal information.

Facial recognition technology is constantly expanding - when it comes to utilizing it for secure identity verification, it is being actively adopted by multiple business areas ranging from digital banking, P2P services, online gaming, self-check-in at airports to lounges or hotels, rental services and MedTech.

In the digital space where threats are constantly evolving, building a robust defense against cyber threats is critical. A Verizon study found that over 80% of network breaches were due to weak or stolen credentials, a clear indicator of how sensitive personal information is vulnerable to theft and data manipulation. Biometric authentication, however, presents a strong solution to counter risk and fraud without compromising on a smooth customer experience when it comes to logging in and accessing one’s account.

Passbase provides a convenient way for your end users to  verify their identity, prove their age, and perform quick logins and authentications with a selfie, for your team to manage verifications from a unified dashboard. Businesses can immediately integrate Passbase into their platform via the Passbase API or with SDKs for iOS, Android, and web.

To see how identity and age verification can work for your business today, sign up with Passbase today or book a demo.

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Passbase is an identity verification solution that makes facial recognition, liveness detection, ID verification and KYC and AML compliance accessible through a suite of flexible developer tools. A zero-knowledge architecture ensures that companies using Passbase can securely verify users from over 190 countries without having to store their data. Built for developers, it can be integrated with just a few lines of code on iOS, Android, and Web.