Let’s face it: everyone hates passwords. There are ways to make managing them a little easier, but at the end of the day, they’re still a bit of a pain to our collective behind. Thankfully for us lazy lot, biometric authentication, or using your biological data to account for passwords, is a growing field.
It all began a while back, in 1891. There’s no person alive on Earth — at least documented — who was around back then. Juan Vucetich started collecting criminals’ fingerprints in Argentina, and in the following 127 years, it evolved into unlocking our iPhones with our thumbs.
Now clearly, identifying a person via their fingerprint isn’t what a lot of us would call exciting. But the biometrics field is quickly evolving, and much to the happiness of many a sci-fi movie fans, we’re already using pretty advanced mechanisms to confirm our identity via our unique biological features.
Retinal Scans Iris Recognition
Retinal scans rely on your unique pattern of blood vessels in the eye. It’s mostly a reliable method, although your retina can be affected by some diseases (like diabetes) or even pregnancy. That aside, it has a very low false-negative rate and is a very quick way to ID someone.
One of the major downsides to it is the fact that you need to be very close to an expensive scanner than shines low-power infrared light into your eyes. Plus, it can reportedly hurt your eyes, especially if the tech being used is cheap. Despite that, it has its uses and applications in some government agencies, like FBI, CIA, and NASA.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Iris recognition scans the colorful pattern around your pupil, and it can do that from a simple photograph, so you don’t have to be as close as you do with retinal scanning.
In addition to being simpler, it’s also cheaper and easier to apply in everyday situations — such as unlocking your smartphone or logging into your bank. It’s also pretty reliable in terms that your iris remains the same from birth — but it can be fooled by a high-quality photo of the eye or contact lenses, and cataract surgery has been showed to change the iris.
Fingerprints are so last millennium, aren’t they? It might definitely sound like that, but it’s still a reliable way to identify most humans. You might be using it yourself to unlock your phone, and most governments still use it to verify your identity.
On the other hand, it’s very possible to get rid of your fingerprints. Criminals were known to do that intentionally, but they can also wear out due to hard labor. However, it’s a cheap method of identifications that’s hard to fake, and that’s why you can find it everywhere from your gym to your phone.
Finger Vein ID
This is the futuristic brother of fingerprint scanning. In short, infrared light is used to scan the unique vein pattern in your finger in order to define your identity. Finger vein ID cannot be affected by age or skin disease, so it’s better than fingerprinting in that way.
But don’t think anyone’s ditching fingerprinting any time soon. This method has been described as “less reliable” by FBI officials, even though it is not as easy to fake as fingerprints are. Even though forensic science may not be in love with it, vein matching is growing in popularity since it’s relatively easy, un-invasive, and hard to fake.
Found on your iPhone X or in surveillance cameras (popular in China, but also used in much less authoritarian countries, such as Switzerland), it’s a method we’re seeing more of each day.
However, even though it’s that popular, it’s also much less reliable than fingerprints or retinal scans. But because it’s zero-contact and non-invasive, it’s a much more optional way to ID people. It’s been adopted in the UK to try and reduce crime, and although it failed to actually ID any criminals, it did reach its goal — probably as a scare tactic.
Its shortcomings include being less effective on people of color, not really working if you turn your face, and generally being a rather dystopian method that could potentially infringe human rights, as it’s easy to use in public (such as surveillance cameras).
Although it’s not commonly used as an identification method, voice recognition is hugely popular in most Android and Apple devices, as well as other assistants, such as Alexa. It’s a great tool for home automation and accessible computing — either for hands-free tech or for people with disabilities.
On the other hand, it’s still rather easy to fool and can be a security concern. Plus, we’ve all heard the creepy incidents where Alexa started listening even though it wasn’t told to. Because it’s currently so imperfect, it can hardly work as a security method, even though it’s a game-changer for some people who may have had major difficulties using technology before voice recognition.
This is a brand-new identification way developed by NASA. They claim it’s more reliable even than retinal scanning, or, more obviously, fingerprinting. It’s also a new and improved method that has eliminated many previous shortcomings that cardiographic identification had.
On the other hand, it’s hardly applicable in simple everyday tasks, such as logging into your account or unlocking your phone. It may have its place to ID people in certain environments (government or military), but it still has ways to go to be usable at your daily life.
So, Are We Getting Rid of Passwords?
That’s the big question — are biometric identification methods already sophisticated and accessible enough in order to be used instead of your regular passwords? In short — not yet, and it’s questionable whether we’ll ditch passwords at all.
Your biometric features cannot be easily changed, and most of these methods have serious shortcomings — they are either a bit too inaccurate, or too expensive, or too easy to fool. Plus, you wouldn’t be able to share your biometric password with your spouse or colleagues (that might be a good thing sometimes, but it can be a major inconvenience for shared accounts, to say the least).
Another huge factor is that these methods cannot be anonymous, because they are literally tied to your physical body. And if your password is you, this is what hackers will begin to target. So as cool as it may sound, it’s still not an easy-breezy way to get rid of ineffective and easy-to-guess ways we protect our data today.
On the other hand, we will definitely use biometric identification more and more. It’s already being adopted by governments and banks, and a lot of us use it to unlock our phones, get into gyms, or to log into some accounts.
As technology evolves every day, we might even see a new biometric authentication method that proves to be usable in our daily lives. Until then, you’re better off outsourcing your password management and learning some core security tips and tricks.
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