Future of biometrics is in hand

Your personal information is moving to the cloud and reports of security breaches are increasing – so things will have to change, writes Dave Howell


Hollywood loves to include biometric security in its movies. Iris, retina and palm scanning have become familiar. But what if the smartphone in your pocket and the tablet PC you now use could become your passport to robust personal security? This is the promise of the next generation of biometric security products that are just around the corner.

It’s handheld biometric scanning and reading devices, which look set to form the future of this technology, that will touch every one of our lives where proving your identity across your electronic footprint becomes vital. Gait (how you walk and move), gesture, voice, your ears and face, body odour, and even an MRI scan of body parts, such as your knees, are all being actively investigated.

One of the most promising is using the unique pattern of veins in your palms for identification. As these patterns are set in the womb and don’t change throughout your lifetime, they offer a biometric key that no one else can copy. Systems like PalmGarde from TDSi could find their way into your local school and hospital where access to sensitive areas needs to be controlled.

The arrival of smartphones is already heralding a new era in biometrics. You can already buy the Motorola ATRIX 4G that has built-in fingerprint scanning. Several of the Fujitsu REGZA models also have this feature. And Apple may have this technology waiting in the wings for their next iPhone. Tactivo have a card and fingerprint reader that is designed as an iPhone case. PiPA Touch is another fingerprint scanner that is coming soon and could offer unprecedented levels of security for smartphone users.

Gait, gesture, voice, ears, face, body odour and even an MRI scan of your knees are all being actively investigated

Clearly with the processing power, high-definition cameras, sensitive microphones and touch screens, smartphones and tablet PCs are perfect to capture biometric information. The University of Surrey has been working on what it calls MOBIO or mobile biometry which it is hoped will put an end to the need for endless lists of passwords, and offer greater security for banking and buying online, plus generally overcoming the problem of digital communications.

“MOBIO prototypes of apps have been created for an iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS and Nokia N900,” says Josef Kittler, director of Surrey University’s Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing. “It is possible to authenticate the identity of people over the phone. For example, if you need to confirm to a nursery that someone else is going to collect your child that day, the MOBIO ensures that no one else could leave that kind of message.”

Dr Alex Bazin, chief technology officer, application services, cloud and strategic solutions at Fujitsu, adds: “I believe we’re entering a phase of expansion of biometrics to the consumer and enterprise via smartphones and tablets. The early adopters will principally use face and voice biometrics to access services.

“It is likely that trusted identity brokers will be set up either by major industry players, consortia of service providers, banks for example, or governments, to reduce the overall cost of the necessary identity infrastructure and to ensure consistent user experience by consumers. I suspect that in five years’ time, we’ll look back on this as no more novel than the deployment of Chip and PIN or the cashpoint and credit-card networks.”

And biometrics isn’t just about identity. How many loyalty cards do you carry? What if you could just swipe your finger or scan your palm at the checkout to get your Clubcard points? This kind of technology is available now. It’s just a matter of time before innovative retailers will begin to offer biometric scanning in their loyalty and reward schemes. It’s then a small step for your bank to offer biometric-based payment systems on your smartphone.