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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.
  • Biometrics are used across business including in accounting, tax, human resources, and marketing.
  • Biometrics may yield false positives, be costly to implement, and may not be a truly accessible option for all.

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.

Other forms of biometrics also secure financial data. Facial recognition technology is used to secure customers' account information by relying on algorithms to match a face to a pre-registered template. ECG-reading bracelets can detect a person's heartbeat, synchronize it with a digital device, and use that data to log in to a secure network through Bluetooth. Voice recognition can be used to pre-register a template, then compare the authenticity of an identity based on the user's speech.

Homeland Security's Automated Biometric Identification System boasts more than 260 million unique identities and processes more than 350,000 biometric transactions each day.

Biometrics and Business

Beyond personal finance, there is an entire world of biometric capabilities used to secure the financial assets of a company. In addition, biometrics can be used to protect customers. Below are various uses of biometrics divided across departments.

Biometrics and Accounting

Biometrics can play a vital part in not only accounting but the audit-related functions of a business. To ensure that only authorized individuals have access to sensitive financial data, biometrics can be used to manage access to accounting systems and software. This can involve utilizing a fingerprint or facial recognition system to access financial records or log into accounting software.

By guaranteeing that only authorized personnel may approve financial transactions, biometrics can also be utilized to prevent fraud. Biometric authentication can be used, for instance, to verify the identification of those who authorize wire transfers and other financial activities.

Employers can correctly report their work hours by using biometrics to track employee time and attendance. This can involve logging into accounting systems using a fingerprint or facial recognition system to clock in and out of work. Secure digital signatures for financial documents can also be provided through biometrics. This may involve having customers sign contracts, invoices, and other financial documents using their fingerprints or facial recognition technology. In either case, the audit function is enhanced by the ability to collect stronger, consistent data.

Biometrics and Marketing

Biometrics have a much different place in marketing. By assessing client reactions to product displays or making product recommendations based on their facial expressions, a face recognition system can be utilized to customize the customer experience. It can also be used to track customer eye movements to determine which products, advertisements, or displays the customer seem to be most interested in.

Customer interactions with chatbots, virtual assistants, and other digital marketing channels can be examined using voice recognition technologies. By responding in a more tailored and efficient manner, this can assist marketers in improving the customer experience.

Customer emotions can be detected and analyzed using biometric technology, giving marketers information into how customers feel about various goods, services, and marketing campaigns. This can aid marketers in developing campaigns that are more compelling and effective.

Last, customer feedback can be gathered through biometric surveys in a more precise and complete manner. Customers could be asked to review a product while having their pulse rate monitored, for instance, to gain more information into their degree of engagement and contentment.

Biometrics and Human Resources

The world of background checks may be altered due to biometrics, as employers can utilize biometric technology to confirm job candidates' identities and that they are who they say they are. This may involve verifying a candidate's identity during the recruiting process using fingerprint or facial recognition technology.

The application of biometric technologies can also enhance workplace health and safety. For instance, some organizations use facial recognition to track employee temperatures and make sure that workers are adhering to safety and health procedures.

Last, as biometrics are prevalent in enhancing security of personal information, employees may be at lower risk when using biometrics. Biometrics can be leveraged to lower the danger of data breaches which enhancing user experience. For instance, some workplaces that have implemented fingerprint or facial recognition for logging into software and systems used in the office may experience, arguably creating a safer, more secure environment for employees to work.

Biometrics and Tax

Taxpayers' identities can be verified using biometric technology, lowering their risk of fraud and identity theft. This may involve verifying the identity of taxpayers who file their tax returns online using a fingerprint or facial recognition technology.

In some cases, biometrics can be used to reduce the exposure of sensitive information. Only authorized staff can access sensitive taxpayer information by using biometrics to manage access to tax systems and software. This can involve employing any number of biometric strategies discussed above to access taxpayer details or log into tax preparation software.

Biometrics can even be used to identify duplicate filings or bogus claims in order to detect and stop tax fraud. For instance, based on the habits and behavior of the taxpayer, biometric technology can be used to examine tax returns for indications of fraud.

Last, with the help of biometrics, the security of taxpayer data may be improved, guaranteeing that private data is shielded from illegal access or disclosure. This may involve limiting access to taxpayer data kept on computers or in the cloud. The only way to access this information is with verifiable biometric authorization.

Like other forms of two-factor authentication, do not rely solely on biometrics. Consider leveraging another form of protection to fully thwart bad actors.

Limitations of Biometrics

Despite its strengths, biometrics may not be suitable in all cases. There are downsides of using biometrics for authentication such as:

  • Accuracy: No biometric technique is 100% accurate, and false positives or false negatives are always a possibility. Accuracy can be impacted by external elements like lighting, background noise, and the biometric sensor's quality.
  • Security: Just like any other sensitive data, biometric data is susceptible to theft or hacking. A hack of a biometric database may have detrimental effects, especially to corporations and especially if that entity was overly-reliant on the biometric security.
  • Privacy: Since the usage of biometric data entails gathering and keeping sensitive information about persons, privacy issues are raised. Biometric information has the potential to be misused, such as when it is used for tracking or surveillance.
  • Cost: Implementing and maintaining biometric technology can be expensive, particularly for large enterprises or governmental institutions.
  • Cultural and Social Factors: Some cultures and communities may not accept or be appropriate for biometric technology, and some people may feel uncomfortable supplying their biometric information.
  • Accessibility: Due to physical impairments like missing fingers or poor vision, some people may not be able to utilize some forms of biometric technology.

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.

What Are the Main Types of Biometrics?

The primary types of biometrics include fingerprints, facial recognition, voice recognition, iris recognition, and palm/vein patterns. Be mindful that the world of biometrics is continually evolving, and new solutions arise all the time.

What Are the Security Risks of Biometrics?

It should go without saying that like any other type of security (i.e. a typed password), inaccuracies and authentication issues may arise should someone figure out how to parse together data to get a false positive. This problem exists for almost every other type of security, though the argument can be made that it is more difficult to fake a retina scan compared to faking the knowledge of a password.

Can Hackers Steal Your Biometrics?

Yes - this is primarily true for fingerprints where there are methods of obtaining copies of your fingerprints to leverage for their own use. Be mindful that a hacker may also steal the template of your biometrics used to verify your information, thereby not even needing access to your physical being to still get away with your biometrics.

How Can I Clear My Fingerprints for a Scanner?

If you're having a hard time getting a good fingerprint read, consider moisturizing your hands with higher quality lotions and natural oils. Consider using a non-dominant finger, and consider washing your hand with warm water and soap (as opposed to hand sanitizer). You may also have better luck using an electronic fingerprinting method as opposed to a more traditional ink-based approach.

The Bottom Line

Biometrics are methods of identifying individuals based on their unique physical or behavioral characteristics. Common examples of biometric characteristics include fingerprint, face, iris, voice, DNA, hand geometry, and signature. Biometric technology is used in various fields, such as accounting, marketing, and human resources. It offers greater accuracy and security than traditional authentication methods but also has limitations such as cost, accuracy, and privacy concerns.

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  2. Yahoo Finance. "Bionym, Makers of the Nymi Band, Closes $14M Series A Financing From Ignition, MasterCard and Relay Ventures."

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