Rebecca James

Enthusiastic Cybersecurity Journalist, A creative team leader, editor of privacycrypts.com.

Biometric Technology: Should We Be Worried?

Photo by Lukenn Sabellano on Unsplash

In the Information Age, as more and more applications and enterprises ride the wave of digitalization and rely on the effective collection and storage of data for their proper functioning- data is, in many ways, turning into the modern equivalent of currency and is the backbone behind most digital operations.  
As this exchange of data becomes normalized (thanks to the prevalence of social media platforms), internet users all around the world are growing increasingly accustomed to the practice of sharing extremely sensitive information online - all of which helps paint a shockingly accurate picture of an individual, down to their likes, dislikes, political and religious beliefs, etc. 
Usually, all of this highly valuable (and sensitive) data is protected by a password or some other authentication method like a VPN. A buzzing user authorization trend that has the entire cybersecurity world in awe these days is identity verification through biometric technology. 
Bearing witness to the prevalence of biometric technology is the fact that it has slowly become a staple in authorization practices all over the globe- from phones unlocking with a fingerprint, to national identity cards being issued with a biometric stamp, biometric authentication is everywhere!
Unfortunately, however, due to the propagation of poorly fleshed-out facts and figures, most individuals see biometric identity as this messiah-like deity that can do absolutely no wrong to the millions of users who rely on the tech. As idealistic as it might be, thinking of biometric authentication as the one-stop solution to all authentication problems is a pretty limited way of thinking, that does more harm than good. 
Before we can get into informing our readers about the vulnerabilities present in the biometric technology, let’s have a brief rundown of what biometric technology is, along with the multiple benefits it has to offer to users. 

What Is Biometric Technology, And What Is It Used For? 

As the name suggests, biometric technology is rooted in biometrics, which refers to an identifiable data set specific to a particular individual only.
The most common branches of biometric technology in the modern world - biometric identification and authentication - rely on biometrics to determine whether the individual should be granted access or not.
Or in other words, if the individual is who he or she says they are. 
Taking into consideration, other authentication methods such as passwords and pins, the advantages offered by biometric technology make it clear why the tech is creating such a big buzz in the IT world.

The benefits that biometric-centric methods of identity verification offer users include: 

1. Convenience
One of the most significant benefits of integrating the use of biometrics in authentication is that it makes the process of determining whether or not access should be granted to an individual highly convenient and efficient since it doesn’t rely on users to remember any passwords or codes. 
2. Speeds up the process of user authorization
With the rise in popularity of authentication methods such as 2FA (Two-factor authentication) and Multi-factor authentication, biometric verification provides a quicker alternative and speeds up the process of user authentication. A real-life example of this is how airports use biometric identification, which enables them to speed up lines. 
3. Eliminates the need for passwords
As we’ve already mentioned above, the introduction of biometric identification makes the use of passwords redundant. It effectively removes the need for users to remember complex passwords or pins. Not only does this save time, but it also adds another level of security to the authentication process.
4. Has widespread applications
An aspect of biometric technology that gives it an edge over other authentication alternatives is that it can be used in a variety of industries and has ubiquitous applications. Banks, hospitals use biometric verification, and airports- all of which perform extremely different functions, but inherently rely on the security offered by biometric verification. 
In addition to the advantages listed above, owing to the recent advancements in biometrics, biometric verification is growing increasingly accurate and sophisticated.
A perfect example of this is seen in Apple’s facial recognition technology seen in the iPhone X, which has a probability of one in a million to mistake one identity for another. 
Additionally, it is through the use of biometric authorization methods that many enterprises, businesses, governments, and industries have been able to leverage the advantages offered by biometrics to secure processes that weren’t safe before. Furthermore, biometric technology has also been used in marketing campaigns in an attempt to better analyze, and if possible, alter consumer behavior. 

What Are Some Vulnerabilities Present In Biometric Technology?

Up till now, our readers might be in for a bit of confusion- the primary reason behind their confusion being the title of our article, and the list of advantages we’ve listed above. As contradictory as it may be, as responsible users and analysts of technology, we feel it our responsibility to convey both of the sides, which includes the benefits, along with the drawbacks.
With that little disclaimer out of the way, biometric technology often falls under the category of one of those security tools that people tend to consider as “perfect.” Although the speediness and convenience provided by biometric technology is something that deserves to be applauded- biometrics still has a long way to go before it can be deemed anywhere near perfect. 
While most cybersecurity analysts tend to skim over the vulnerabilities present within biometric technology, we’ve chosen to list some of the more prominent loopholes in the tech that raise serious issues about the potential threats to user privacy. Some of the most alarming vulnerabilities present in biometric technology include the following:
Extremely easy to hack: Perhaps the most worrisome and dangerous vulnerability facing biometric technology today is that it is very easy to hack into. Taking into account the growing sophistication of tools used by cybercriminals- the exploit of biometric data becomes a matter of “when” rather than “if.”
The ease with which modern cybercriminals can breach biometric data is the fact that hackers were able to break into Apple’s TouchID (which was considered as an advancement in biometrics at the time of its release), along with Samsung S8 iris recognition system. And if this wasn’t enough, hacks on biometric data wreak much more damage on the victims, since the static nature of biometric data mean that hackers can leverage a user’s identity for an extended time.
Prone to identity-based threats: As we’ve already mentioned, the static nature of biometric data dictates that, if breached, hackers could launch an extensive arsenal of identity-based threats on the targeted individual(s). 
Taking into consideration the fact that biometrics contain easily identifiable data specific to a particular individual, hackers can easily tamper or manipulate identities for their gain. Unlike passwords, pins, or other authentication alternatives- the static nature of biometric data dictates that you can’t replace the physical identifiers that make a person up. Since the most commonly used application of biometric technology is the fingerprint reader, a compromised fingerprint can enable hackers to commit identity theft for a significant time, since a fingerprint can’t be replaced that easily. 
Security issues regarding the storage of biometrics: Back in 2015, when the use of biometrics wasn’t as widespread as it is today, the U.S Office of Personnel Management was breached, which led to hackers gaining access to over 5.6 million fingerprints of government employees- putting them at serious risk of high-scale identity theft. 
An often ignored problem to the rising popularity of biometric verification and authentication is the storage of biometric data. The stagnant nature of biometric data makes it a highly sought-after asset to cybercriminals all over, and storing it securely is a considerable challenge- a challenge that only a few cybersecurity- conscious individuals seem to be up for. 

How Can Biometric Technology Be Secured? 

Although the alarming vulnerabilities present within biometric technology is enough to make the most careless person concerned about the state of cybersecurity in the ever-evolving threat landscape of today- there is still a silver lining to look forward to. 
When it comes to promoting the notion of security within biometric authentication and verification, cybersecurity specialists need to devise solutions that leverage the best parts of biometric technology, with perhaps a layer or two of added protection.  
Usually, these added layers of protection can arise from the integration of multi-factor authentication, or through the implementation of a security framework that sets certain boundaries for what can and can’t be accomplished with biometrics. In addition to serving as a stark reminder of the loopholes present in the biometric verification system, setting a clear cut security framework can actually help users achieve better internet privacy, amidst a security landscape full of external and internal threats. 
Either way, enterprises, and individuals need to realize the limits of the biometric tech, and set out security goals that mirror these limitations. 

Concluding Words

At the end of the article, we can only hope that we’ve unveiled a new aspect of the biometric tech to our readers. Although we’ve made this point already, we genuinely believe that any technological advancement can only live up to its potential, if users are made aware of the drawbacks of the tech, along with the many benefits it offers. 
Having said that, we hope that this article got our readers to exercise more caution while using biometrics, especially as far as the storage and access of biometric data is concerned!

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