Biometrics authentication technologies have been around much longer than most people realize. Back in the 1990s, the organization that I worked for was experimenting with fingerprint authentication--technology that existed long before we began using it. In all fairness, early biometrics were not very reliable. The fingerprint readers from the ‘90s were easy to fool and notoriously inaccurate. Since that time, however, biometrics authentication has grown up. Modern biometrics authentication solutions tend to be both reliable and affordable. In fact, they are integrated into many consumer-grade computing products. But this raises an important question: If biometrics authentication is so great, why isn’t everyone using it?
Here are three reasons biometrics adoption is still in the ramping-up stage:
1. It’s a matter of trust (or lack thereof).
Although biometrics can easily be regarded as a mature technology, there are still several barriers to its universal adoption. One of the most significant of these barriers is the issue of user trust (or, rather, distrust).
Of course it’s easy to see where this distrust comes from. The last several years have seen countless incidents of personally identifiable information being leaked as the result of a data breach. There have also been numerous allegations in recent years of technology companies spying on their customers. Users have every reason to be distrustful of big tech, and are likely reluctant to trust tech companies with their biometrics data.
There probably isn’t an easy answer as to how to win back users’ trust. My guess is that users will become more accepting of biometrics as the technology becomes more pervasive.
For example, I’m old enough to remember when retailers started making the transition to electronic credit card readers. Prior to that, credit card transactions generally required a retailer to make an imprint of a customer’s card using carbon paper. Even though I was a young child when electronic credit card readers started to show up in stores, I vividly remember people saying that they didn’t trust the machines and would never use them. Today, however, electronic card readers are the norm.
Technology becomes palatable to consumers as it is proven over time to be trustworthy--and as alternatives slowly disappear. My guess is that we will see the same type of thing occur with regard to the adoption of biometrics authentication.
2. Hardware that supports biometrics authentication is not universally available.
Another barrier to the widespread adoption of biometrics authentication is something that I alluded to just a moment ago. The hardware just isn’t universally available yet. Forget about retina-based authentication for ATM transactions for a moment, and just consider one small aspect of biometric authentication--logging on to Windows.
Windows 10 includes a feature called Windows Hello. Windows Hello gives users the option to ditch the password and use an alternative means of authentication such as facial recognition. I use facial recognition to log on to my laptop all the time. However, this facial recognition requires a special 3D camera that is currently found only on relatively high-end devices. My Microsoft Surface Book 2 device, for instance, includes a Windows Hello-compatible camera. My wife’s laptop, however, lacks a compatible camera, even though it is a newer device.
Some level of hardware standardization will have to happen before biometrics authentication can be universally used for Windows authentication, among other things. The technology just doesn’t mesh well with legacy hardware.
3. Biometrics break some security models.
One last barrier that I believe to be holding back the widespread adoption of biometrics authentication is that biometrics break some of the security models that have long been in place. Single sign-on technologies, for example, were originally designed with the assumption that authentication would always be based on the use of passwords. I’m sure that there is probably a way to retrofit single sign-on mechanisms to work with biometric authentication, but it is one of those problems that will have to be solved before the technology can be universally adopted.
Even though there are a number of things holding back biometrics authentication from becoming the standard form of authentication, I think the day is coming when biometrics authentication will become the norm. Until then, a lot of work will have to be done--particularly with regard to standardization of hardware and making sure that the enrollment process is secure and trustworthy.