Investopedia / Ryan Oakley

What Is Biometrics?

Biometrics are a group of digital security methods that rely on biological or physiological attributes and that are used to prevent data breaches such as credit card hacks or unauthorized logins. Biometrics use criteria that are physically unique to an individual that can prove their identity, such as a fingerprint or voice pattern, rather than relying on passwords or PIN codes that can be more easily hacked or stolen.

Key Takeaways

  • Biometrics refers to digitally encoding physical attributes of a user to gain access to data or computer systems.
  • Fingerprints, facial recognition, and voice patterns are among some of the most widespread uses of biometrics today in both consumer and commercial use.
  • By using physical identifiers that are unique to individuals, biometrics seeks to make hacking or gaining unauthorized access to computer systems much more difficult.

Understanding Biometrics

One common method of employing biometrics is the use of fingerprints as identification. This system can be used in more high-tech or high-security situations, but it has more recently been adapted on the individual consumer level. For example, Apple was the first major phone manufacturer to implement a fingerprint login system, starting with its iPhone 5s, and other companies followed soon after. Other systems of biometrics include iris or retina scans and voice recognition software.

As the world starts relying more heavily on technology and sharing information electronically, data breaches are increasingly common. Well-known examples of corporations that have been targeted by hackers over the past few years include Target and Home Depot. Biometrics is one method of counteracting these breaches.

Biometrics and Protecting Financial Data

Since so many people rely on credit cards, online banking, and apps to transfer payments, it's essential to employ the use of techniques such as biometrics to prevent hacks, breaches, and fraud. Many banks and financial institutions use the technology inherent in newer phones by creating apps that require fingerprints to access data, and their individual biometrics systems become more advanced as the mobile technology develops. Customers can access secure banking information at the press of a finger.

More recently, companies have begun to invest in more varied forms of biometric technology for the mass market. Zoloz is in the process of developing systems that will allow participating companies to use facial recognition technology to secure customers' account information. Another company, Nymi, developed ECG-reading bracelets that detect a person's heartbeat, synchronize it with a digital device, and use that data to log in to a secure network through Bluetooth. Companies involved in funding this development include Mastercard and Relay Ventures.

Special Considerations

The promise of using data unique to each person in order to keep information safe is an attractive idea to financial investors, since biometrics is synonymous with enhanced security. Biometrics is an evolving technology, and it holds promise for the future. However, if you are considering investing in a company and are taking into account its use of biometrics, be sure to research the exact technology in use.

Some forms of biometrics are more secure than others; some companies have more intelligent systems than others. It is worth looking into the company's history to see if the technology has ever been subject to controversy or even has been breached in the past. You should also take into account how well the particular biometric technology functions in the context of the company's operation.

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