What Biometrics Can Bring to Our Connected World

In recent years, interactions with digital devices seeking to track, automate, and ultimately simplify the way we live have become increasingly common parts of our lives. Everything from unlocking our smartphones, to managing our finances, to regulating our home-heating and alarm systems, now commonly involves assistance from new digital technologies. And things are only just getting started: in this new age of convenience, use-cases are multiplying rapidly.

Using biometrics to provide access to certain areas enhances security. (Image source: Fingerprints)

Motion, temperature, weight, and speed sensors all constitute important parts of this convenient and connected new wave of technology.  But one type of sensor has emerged as a frontrunner across multiple use-cases: biometric sensors.

Integrating biometrics into devices enables many industries to simultaneously enhance security and remove points of friction. As importantly, the phenomenally successful uptake of biometrics in the smartphone world has demonstrated the appeal of access-enabling biometric sensors.

But in practice, where is the market currently at? What are the biggest opportunities for biometric solutions? And, crucially, what safeguards need to be put in place to ensure well-managed, valuable adoption for new industries?

The Success Story of Mobile

The mobile sector demonstrates how quickly biometrics can be integrated into our daily lives.  Just over five years ago, biometrics in smartphones saw rapid adoption – jumping from 3% in 2014 to a whopping 80% in 2018.

Intensive R&D was crucial in enabling the technology to reach this large audience: updates to software led to dramatically improved overall performance, security, and user-experience. It also enabled the development for far smaller sensors, in turn enabling far greater flexibility in design and integration. As a result, demand for active capacitive sensors soared. Now, over 1 billion sensors (and counting) have been shipped worldwide.

Consumers love it too, with 82% of them using biometrics on smartphones where available. And crucially, rapid and enthusiastic adoption has paved the way for biometrics in all sorts of applications.

Payments: The Proof of Concept

A PoC, if you like, for biometrics entering new markets is the recent entrance and success of biometrics in payments.

Extensive R&D has enabled sensors to become power efficient, thin and flexible enough to integrate seamlessly into a traditional payment card. And the technology is gathering real momentum, with over 20 trials underway globally and the first commercial launch towards the end of last year. Other biometric-secured payment form factors are also emerging such as USB dongles and wearables.

New Use Cases in Access Control

Let’s get back to those new use cases.

Smart, or connected, homes are on the rise, equipped with digital personal assistants and sensors which can manage everything from turning on the lights, to regulating household temperature, to boiling a kettle. This has created a perfect platform for biometrics innovation.

Biometrics is at its best, and brings most value, when greater security or personalization is required.

Entertainment systems are one good example. With biometric ID, home systems can adjust access to purchase controls and age-restricted content as well as bring up each user’s profile and preferred settings automatically. This can easily be extended to apply to other settings, such as in the family car.

The physical access applications are extensive, too. Door locks, medical cabinets, alarm systems, bike locks – anything with PINs, passwords, codes and keys can be considered as an opportunity for biometrics. Working in collaboration with other sensors, the possibilities for automation are endless. Imagine, for example, your home heating system adjusting automatically when you use a fingerprint to access your garage.

These are just a few examples of the growth we’re likely to see in the domestic world. Expand these ideas out to the enterprise world, healthcare, manufacturing, agriculture, etc. and the possibilities are endless.

The Importance of Privacy

The potential and possibilities are exciting. But it is vital that device makers considering biometrics take careful, considered steps.

The vulnerability and hackability of cloud-based storage is well documented. And in new industries, the risk of compromising consumer data could prove fatal to adoption.

Contrary to many common assumptions, most consumer use-cases store biometric data and conduct the authentication process securely in hardware on the device - not in the cloud or a large remote database.

In smartphones, for example, the template is stored, and the algorithms involved in the authentication process are run, in the highly secure Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) on the device. Similarly, for the latest biometric payment cards, the secure element (SE) ‘chip’ in your bank card offers a dynamic environment for the storage, processing and matching of biometric information securely on the card.

In short, your data stays with you, on your device – and never some third-party location.

As access control and other new applications emerge, championing this on-device and privacy first approach is crucial. Especially as devices become increasingly connected in the world of IoT.

Tapping into New Opportunities

The ingredients for success are at our collective fingertips. And it is largely new industries and new players which will determine the next applications and launches.

Fingerprints has worked hard with the access control industry to define a simple ‘plug and play’ module to open the door for new players to add biometrics to solutions. To meet the needs of these stakeholders, we needed to address three key requirements: ease of integration, performance and resilience.

Fingerprint Cards AB's low-power, all-in-one BM-Lite module. (Image source: Fingerprints)

The all-in-one module is simple to add to solutions, preloaded with all necessary software and algorithms and with no additional hardware needed. From FIDO authentication modules and cryptocurrency cold wallets to door locks and safes, the module is versatile and easy to integrate without any biometric expertise. It’s also been defined in line with industry standard interfaces including SPI and UART to simplify device integration.

The Fingerprints module has the performance needed to match equivalent smartphone sensors. With the probability of just 1 in 500,000 that someone else’s fingerprint is alike enough to match and a rate of falsely rejecting the right finger at just 1%, the module does just that: delivering security with a great user experience. Not to mention that, by comparison, the chance of someone guessing a typical 4-digit PIN code is 1 in 10,000! The memory can store up to 50 users, and authentication takes less than half a second. All verified securely on the device, of course, and utilizing a standard battery it will last up to five years with normal use.

Having a solution that’s resilient is vital, too. The BM-Lite has a lifespan of five years with a standard battery and normal use and is practical in several settings. For example, it can withstand water, fizzy drinks, coffee, oil, soap, and juices, while also operating at temperatures between 0 and 70 degrees C.

To detail out every possible use case for biometrics is clearly beyond the scope of this discussion. And, excitingly, many use cases are still to be defined. But with the lessons learned from mobile, and products tailored to new solutions, adding biometrics to your solution has never been more accessible or offered more value.

אודות כותב זה

Image of Pontus Jägemalm

Pontus joined Fingerprints (FINGB:Stockholm) as Senior VP Research & Development in 2009. He has been CTO since 2018.

During his tenure, Pontus has directed the company’s R&D initiatives, including the product development that led to the extreme growth in biometrics and maintaining its position as the market leader in biometrics. This has been achieved by expanding the company’s areas of focus into smart card and access segments.

Prior to joining Fingerprints, Pontus accrued extensive international experience, including Technical Lead and Head of System Design at Displaytech Inc, USA.

Pontus holds a master’s degree and PhD in Engineering Physics from Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg.

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