What is Biometric Data?

Knowing the type of data you’re sharing online helps you protect yourself and understand how your information is being used. One of the critical types of data is biometric data, which includes your unique physical and behavioral characteristics.

From fingerprint scanning to facial recognition, biometric technology is reshaping how we access services, devices, and even secure locations. Its integration into daily life raises important questions about privacy, ethics, and the future of personal identity verification. 

Let’s explore what biometric data entails and unlock insights into its potential benefits and challenges ahead.

What are biometrics?

Biometrics refers to the information that can help identify you based on your physical or behavioral traits. These include fingerprints, facial patterns, voice, and even the way one walks. Unlike passwords or PINs, biometric data is inherently linked to an individual.

Biometric systems capture a biometric sample from a person. This sample is then converted into data and compared with stored information in a database. If there’s a match, the identity is verified.

Why do we use biometric data?

One major advantage of biometrics is the level of security they provide. Traditional methods like passwords can be forgotten or stolen. Biometrics reduce this risk significantly because they rely on unique features that are difficult to replicate.

For example, fingerprint scanners on phones offer both convenience and security. Users unlock their devices quickly without remembering complex passwords.

Besides security, biometrics offer unmatched convenience in identification processes. They streamline verification steps by making them faster and more efficient.

Imagine walking through airport security without needing to show your passport, but instead, just look into a camera for facial recognition. Or, when it comes to online peer-to-peer marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace, you can buy or sell safely using goConfirm. Accounts are biometrically unique and verified using your government ID, an uploaded photo, and facial scan. 

Scenarios like these highlight the practical benefits of using biometric technology in everyday life.

Traditional versus biometric ID

Traditional identification methods depend on something you have (like an ID card) or something you know (like a password). However, as we mentioned, these are at risk of being lost, stolen, or forgotten.

In contrast, biometric identifiers are always with you and cannot be easily misplaced or forged.. As a result, biometric data provides a more reliable and secure way to verify identities.

However, biometric IDs require specialized equipment. For instance, your phone uses special sensors to scan your fingerprint. This reliance on specific hardware can sometimes limit the widespread adoption of biometric systems. Some have also raised security and privacy concerns related to increased use of sensitive biometric data.

Types of biometric data

Biometrics data is related to a unique-to-you physical trait such as fingerprints, facial recognition, iris scanning, voice and even vein pattern recognition. Let’s dive into what each one is and how the data is collected.

Fingerprint recognition

Fingerprint recognition is the most prevalent type of biometric data. This is because fingerprints are the easiest, measurable physical characteristic or personal behavioral trait used to recognize the unique identity of an individual.

In fact, no two people have the same fingerprints—which guarantees a high level of security.

Fingerprint recognition technology leverages the unique ridges and patterns found on an individual’s fingertips. Due to its ease of use and rapid processing, smartphones, and various security systems have and continue to use fingerprint recognition.

Facial recognition

While fingerprint recognition checks the unique characteristics of your fingers, facial recognition analyzes the geometry of your face. For instance, it assesses the distance between your eyes, nose, mouth, and jaw edges from photographs or video feeds. By comparing this data to a preexisting database, the system can authenticate your identity or identify individuals in large crowds.

goConfirm leverages Persona’s robust facial recognition capabilities for secure identification and fraud detection. Through ID and photo submission, followed by live facial capture, Persona analyzes your biometric data points to verify your identity. Then, it performs liveness detection to combat spoofing.

Iris scanning

Iris recognition focuses on the unique patterns of your iris. The technology scans the intricate features of your iris, such as furrows or freckles, creating a unique biometric identifier.

Voice recognition

Voice recognition analyzes your voice to verify your identity. By assessing vocal characteristics and patterns, the system can confirm that the individual accessing the service is indeed who they claim to be.

If you’ve been using smart assistants like Siri or Alexa, you may have experienced how voice recognition technology authenticates your commands. As such, it enhances user experience by adding an extra layer of personalization and convenience on top of security.

Vein pattern recognition

Vein pattern recognition is an emerging tool in biometric identity verification. It goes beyond superficial characteristics and examines the vein patterns in your palm, wrist, or finger through infrared light.

Similar to fingerprints and iris patterns, your veins have a unique pattern that remains consistent over time. Vein pattern is one of the most secure biometrics data because these patterns are nearly impossible to replicate or forge.

How does the collection of biometric data work?

Biometric systems record personal information about identifiable individuals in a database. Let’s delve into the specifics of how these systems operate, from data capture to the final matching process.

Data capture

The journey of biometric data begins with data capture. Your (or a) device’s specialized sensors detect and record your unique physical or behavioral traits, such as fingerprints, facial features, or iris patterns.

When you initially set up your unlock preferences, your phone captures your fingerprint details and stores them securely for future verification. After that, when you place your finger on your phone’s lock button or screen, the scanner’s sensor takes a high-resolution image of your fingerprint to compare against those initial details. Digital Conversion

After it is captured, the raw biometric data is transformed into a digital format. This phase involves complex algorithms that process the captured data, converting it into a digital biometric template.

The biometric system creates a detailed digital map of your unique biometric feature, where every point, line, or pattern is translated into digital code. This way, it can perform accurate and rapid matching processes when using your biometric data for verification or identification purposes.

Matching process

At the core of biometric systems is the matching process. It still involves complex algorithms that compare the real-time biometric data captured against the stored digital templates.

When you attempt to access your phone or a secure system, the biometric sensor scans your feature, and the matching algorithm analyzes this fresh data by searching for a match with the pre-saved templates.

This is the core process of verifying an individual’s identity, granting access only when a match is confirmed. As such, it safeguards against unauthorized access and makes sure that only legitimate, verified individuals can open or access sensitive information.

Are biometrics safe?

Biometric systems are considered safe because your fingerprints, iris, voice, and vein patterns are unique. They’re also hard to replicate. 

However, as with any other technology, cybercriminals still find a way to breach these systems. Let’s talk about that next.

Altering or replicating someone’s biometric data is very difficult since each person’s biometric traits are distinct and complex.

Consider fingerprints again: they have patterns that are unique and not easily copied. Yet, there have been instances where high-quality fake fingerprints tricked scanners. These cases are rare but highlight potential risks in relying solely on biometrics for security.

No system is perfect. Biometric systems can have vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. Techniques like creating fake fingerprints or even having a photo of the person and using it to open their phone can highlight potential weaknesses in biometric security.

Another issue is the rise of AI-generated text-to-speech software, which raises concerns about the potential misuse of voice recordings for unauthorized access or to mislead individuals.

What you can do to safeguard your biometric data

It’s our responsibility to stay vigilant and proactive in safeguarding our biometric data. Below are six ways you can protect your biometric information.

Choose encrypted services

Read the fine print and aim to just use devices and services that encrypt your biometric data. Encryption transforms your data into a code and adds a layer of protection through a lock and key, making it harder for hackers to access.

Many smartphones now come with encryption features for fingerprint and facial recognition data. Before buying a device, check if it encrypts biometric information. This simple step can significantly enhance your data protection.

Additionally, when using apps that require biometrics, look for those that mention encryption in their privacy policy. Not all apps treat user data with the same level of security. Choosing wisely can prevent future headaches.

Update regularly

Keeping software up-to-date is another essential practice. Cybercriminals use sophisticated software to steal information. Software updates are your line of defense against hackers’ latest tactics since these patches often include proactive measures for security vulnerabilities recently discovered.

By updating regularly, you make their job much tougher. Think of updates as renewing the locks on your digital doors. It’s not just about updating your phone’s operating system either. You should also keep any app that uses or stores biometric data.

Be cautious of public biometric scanners

Stay vigilant when using public biometric scanners, such as those at airports or workplaces. While convenient, these scanners can sometimes be targeted by hackers looking to capture biometric data.

Make sure that any public system you use to input your biometric information follows high-security standards. Ideally, these should encrypt your data within their system. If you’re unsure about the security of a public biometric scanner, consider using alternative verification methods if available.

Use multi-factor authentication

Consider using multi-factor authentication (MFA) to add an extra layer of security to your biometric data. Even if your phone or home system uses biometrics, you can combine it with a password, PIN, or a physical token to significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access.

This way, even if one form of identification is compromised, the additional security layers will help protect your identity and maintain the integrity of your biometric data.

Review privacy settings

Understanding and adjusting privacy settings on devices and apps is key. Devices like smartphones have settings where you can manage which apps access your biometric data.

By reviewing these settings regularly, you make sure that only trusted applications use this sensitive information. Apps also have individual privacy settings related to how they handle user data according to the privacy principle.

Take time to read through these and adjust them according to what feels right for you.

Disable unneeded biometric features 

If you’re not using certain biometric features, consider turning them off. Keeping these features active when they’re not needed can expose you to unnecessary risks.

Let’s say you have a smart home security system that uses fingerprint scanning and facial recognition. You initially set up both biometric features for a more comprehensive security solution.

Over time, however, you find that you predominantly use the fingerprint scanner for everyday access, as it’s more convenient for you and your family members. In this scenario, continuing to have the facial recognition feature active when it’s not being used effectively can pose unnecessary security risks. 

Moreover, every active feature is another aspect of the system that requires regular updates and monitoring.

The best course would be to disable the facial recognition feature to streamline your home security process. It also minimizes the chances of unauthorized access.

Securing your data

Biometric data offers a cutting-edge solution for security and personal identification by combining convenience with technology. However, its safety lies in our hands. By being proactive and mindful of how we use, protect, and share our biometric data, we can significantly reduce the risks of unauthorized access and potential misuse.

FAQ

Is biometric data the same as personal data?

Biometric data is a specialized category of personal data that specifically relates to the unique physical or behavioral characteristics of an individual. This can include fingerprints, facial patterns, vein, voice, and iris recognition.

Unlike general personal data such as demographic information, biometric data is unique to you alone. It is able to verify your identity with greater confidence than other types of data, making it incredibly valuable for secure access and personal identification. While all biometric data is personal data, not all personal data is biometric. 

Why are biometrics so reliable?

Biometrics are considered highly reliable because they are based on unique physical  characteristics that are extremely difficult to replicate or steal. 

This uniqueness is what makes biometric verification so powerful—a system can quickly and accurately confirm your identity by comparing the biometric data presented to data it has previously stored.

The reliability of biometrics also stems from the sophisticated technology that captures and analyzes these unique traits. Advanced sensors and algorithms make sure that the data is accurately captured and matched, reducing the chances of false identifications. 

This level of precision and the difficulty in duplicating biometric traits contribute to the trustworthiness and widespread adoption of biometrics in security systems.

Are biometrics safer than passwords?

Biometrics are generally considered safer than passwords because they are inherently linked to an individual and are not something that can be easily guessed, forgotten, or stolen like a traditional password. Unlike passwords, which can be compromised through phishing attacks or data breaches, biometric characteristics are unique to the individual and are much more challenging for fraudsters to replicate. 

This inherent uniqueness provides a stronger, more secure method of authentication.

However, while biometrics offer enhanced security, they are not without their potential vulnerabilities. We advise using them together with other security measures to create a multi-layered defense strategy.

For instance, combining biometrics with a password or PIN can significantly increase the security level. This way, even if one method is compromised, unauthorized users still cannot gain access easily.

Can biometric data change?

Biometric data is generally stable, but certain conditions can lead to changes or require updates. For example, significant weight changes, injuries, or aging can alter facial recognition data, while scars or cuts might affect fingerprint recognition. 

It’s crucial for biometric systems to have the capability to update and adapt to these changes to maintain accuracy and effectiveness.

Moreover, the adaptability of biometric systems is essential in making sure they remain reliable over time. Regular updates can help the system adjust to minor changes in the biometrics so that the authentication process remains smooth and secure. 

Users should be proactive in re-enrolling or updating their biometric data to prevent potential access issues or mismatches.

What are the concerns of biometric data?

The primary concerns with biometric data revolve around privacy, security, and potential misuse. Since biometric characteristics are intimately tied to individuals, any breach or unauthorized access to this data can lead to serious privacy violations. There’s also the risk of such data being used for surveillance or tracking without consent, raising significant ethical and privacy issues.

Moreover, if biometric data is compromised, it’s not as easily changeable as a password; you can’t change your fingerprints or iris patterns. This raises the stakes for securing such information, necessitating robust protections to prevent the theft or falsification of biometric data. 

Users and providers alike must be vigilant in how they handle biometric data, making sure it’s encrypted, securely stored, and only accessed under strict protocols.