Once limited only to specific applications, biometric authentication has now become a day-to-day activity. You may perform it several times a day without even noticing it. When you unlock your phone or computer using face or fingerprint, clock in on office fingerprint attendance system or unlock door with finger scan, biometric authentication takes place. If we take all biometric modalities into account, fingerprint authentication has particularly taken a giant leap in terms of usage and has become the most popular biometric modality.
In the subsequent sections, we will take a deeper look at the reasons behind the popularity of fingerprint biometrics and how it is taking over identification and authentication applications.
Fingerprints had a head start
Forensics and fingerprints have been close allies for more than a century. Fingerprints have been extensively used to identify individuals present at a crime scene with the latent prints found at the scene. Fingerprint recognition has also witnessed the era of all-manual processing when there was no technological assistance except a magnifying glass. Due to extensive use in forensics, fingerprint recognition had an early advantage over other biometric modalities. It drew attention of tech firms and experts to look for technological means of performing fingerprint identification. Fingerprint recognition was also the first among biometric modalities to leave forensic labs and reach civil applications.
Initial advantage with forensics application resulted in advancement of fingerprint technology, which eventually gave rise to its popularity among masses.
Shortcomings of traditional identification and authentication methods
How do you unlock your door?
Most of us still do it using a key to the door lock. Possessing a key gives us authority to access the locked area (your home, office, etc.). It requires manual efforts of inserting the key and rotating it in a certain direction to unlock the door. Also, if you lose your key, you also lose the ability to access through the locked door. Lock and key is one of the many possession based abilities to control physical access.
Now how do you unlock your PC or authenticate identity on your email account?
Most of the users still do it using passwords (unfortunately lock and keys do not offer any help in digital space). It requires you to remember your PIN or password all the time and type it to the password prompt of your locked PC or the email account. Forgotten passwords will result in password reset process and wasted time.
We have keys, cards, fobs, etc. for physical access control, while on the digital front, it is entirely different story. PINs, passwords, security questions, etc. plays the keys to digital access. Traditional methods of identification, authentication and access control have a fragmented approach when it comes to identification or authentication in physical and digital space. To prove your identity to a traffic police officer, you use your driving licence, but to login to their website, you have to use a password. This fragmentation has led to more confusion, and has given us more things to either remember or to carry with us.
Friction and shortcomings associated with traditional methods of identification and authentication also helped in fingerprint recognition’s popularity. Fingerprint alone can be used in all identification, authentication and access control application without the need of any lock/key, access card, ID, password or PIN.
Familiarity due to popular culture
Even without any formal introduction to fingerprint recognition, most people understand that fingerprints found at a crime scene can help police to catch criminals as seen in films and TV programs. Popular culture significantly contributed to raise the early awareness of fingerprint recognition, which is something most other biometric modalities lacked in the beginning. This, however, also contributed to conspiracy theories like government collecting fingerprint to watch over its citizens and fingerprint recognition faced reluctance of people to adopt it for civil applications.
Now the level of familiarity is so high that people want phones and computers equipped with a fingerprint scanner so that they can get rid of PIN or password based security.
Perfect balance of cost, convenience and security
Implementing any identification or authentication method is always a trade-off between security and convenience. We lose and misplace IDs all the time. Means of physical access control like keys or access cards can also be lost or stolen. Using passcodes or patterns may seem secure but they are inconvenient and any shoulder surfer can overlook them and unlock your device.
On biometric front, implementation of basic face recognition ability might sound cheaper but it is highly insecure and prone to spoofing, while leveraging 3D face map and IR face scanning result in higher cost. Iris recognition is also a costly affair as of yet, specially when equipped with anti-spoofing techniques.
Fingerprint as a biometric modality offers unparalleled balance among cost, convenience and security which is yet to be attained by any traditional and even other biometric modalities.
Inexpensiveness of fingerprint devices and hardware
Fingerprint readers, fingerprint OEM modules and USB fingerprint scanners are getting increasingly cheaper and deploying fingerprint recognition ability does not cost a fortune like many other biometric modalities. It offers perfect balance of security and convenience even without deploying high-end hardware. This balance of security and convenience is also adjustable, which makes it suitable for high security applications.
Fingerprint scanners like Fingerprint OEM Modules and USB fingerprint scanners, come with a wide range of choice. Retail price of a basic USB fingerprint scanner may start as low as $25, which increases depending on the features, functionality, specifications, certification, brand, etc.
Easy to deploy and integrate with custom solutions
Today, we have application specific fingerprint recognition equipment designed to serve a specific purpose as well as fingerprint scanners that can be attached to PCs, smartphones and custom designed devices to equip them with fingerprint recognition ability. Standalone devices can serve specific applications like employee time and attendance tracking, access control, etc. Installing and setting up these devices are incredibly easy and anyone can deploy fingerprint ability without any expert help.
On the other hand, attachable external fingerprint scanners can be integrated with custom applications using SDK and API provided by the manufacturers. Most manufacturers provide SDK and API to help users integrate scanners with their custom solutions. These SDKs and APIs support most of the popular platforms and languages so that users are not bound to code their applications keeping scanners compatibility in mind.
Ease of integration and deployment has also helped increase the popularity of fingerprint modality.
High level of subject awareness and user consent
Fingerprint is arguably the easiest biometric modality to use which also takes care of user consent before getting him/her identified or authenticated. User consent may be the problem with other popular biometric modalities like face and iris recognition, which can also identify users from a distance and without their awareness. Fingerprint recognition requires users to touch the scanner and users stay aware that they are going through a finger scan for identification or identity verification.
Since fingerprint scan cannot be performed from a long distance and without user awareness, fingerprint recognition is also not suitable for surveillance applications, which is a good thing from user standpoint.
Touch is naturally involved in access control activities
Fingerprinting becomes a natural choice for access control applications as we tend to hold or push things to gain access. We hold keys, handles to open doors, hand and touch is naturally involved in most physical and even logical access control activities. We type passwords and swipe patterns with fingers. Holding a door handle and having a fingerprint sensor on it will make the best use case than staring at an iris scanner embedded on the door. User consent is also naturally involved when we touch scanners unlike face recognition.
No other biometric modality is so ubiquitous
Fingerprinting is the only biometric modality that can be easily deployed in almost all use case scenarios and also have hardware available for that. It can be deployed in door locks, car locks, point of sale systems, firearms, gun safes, PCs, smartphones, smart devices and what not? It can even be deployed in a credit card; can any other biometric modality offer that level of ubiquity? However, fingerprint modality cannot be deployed in surveillance applications as it requires high level of user consent and recognition from a distance is not possible with fingerprint identification. Except surveillance, fingerprint recognition offers incredible deployment ability across all sorts of identification, authentication and access control applications.
Ubiquity of fingerprint recognition is evident in a variety of applications
Employee time and attendance
Employee time and attendance applications are where fingerprint recognition has made a significant impact. Today we have several manufacturers offering a variety of time and attendance tracking devices to enable organizations to automate employee time tracking and improve their payroll efficiency. Most organizations have replaced their traditional or manual systems with fingerprint based employee time and attendance systems.
Access control implemented with manual or traditional methods either require you to carry something (e.g. key, card, fob, etc.) or to remember something (e.g. a PIN, password, etc.) to gain access. Unfortunately, these methods pose threat of unauthorized access with lost or stolen possessions or guessed PINs/passwords. Fingerprint based access control is free from keys, cards, PINs or any other possession or knowledge based elements, which can be lost, stolen or forgotten. Government and commercial Organizations as well as domestic user are increasingly adopting fingerprint based access control.
Nations across the world are increasingly acknowledging the need of a foolproof identity solution and adopting biometric identification for the purpose. Fingerprint recognition has been particularly adopted for identification of citizens and establishment of national ID by many countries around the world. Leveraging citizens’ fingerprint for biometric national ID shows the level of credibility fingerprint recognition has gained over time. There are several countries including developing economies that has taken up fingerprints for setting up national ID database.
India has world’s largest biometric database including fingerprint of around 1.2 billion citizens. South African government also holds a huge fingerprint database of its 48 million citizens. These countries are trying to ease off access to public services with authenticity of fingerprint identification.
Identification of people crossing international borders is a crucial task. Errors in this identification activity may allow unwanted elements like terrorists and criminals to enter or escape international borders. Fingerprint recognition has been deployed at many airports, seaports and border checkpoints for accurate identification of people crossing international borders.
Law enforcement and police
Police and law enforcement officers do not have direct access to in-house resources like computers, database servers, scanners, etc. to run background check or identity verification during their field duty. Fingerprint scanners for police and law enforcement have been introduced in many jurisdictions for identity verification of the suspects on the street.
Smartphones, portables computers and smart devices
Fingerprint recognition has been a huge success on mobile devices and it is already a preferred method of identity authentication on smartphones. Fingerprint recognition received its due admiration after the launch iPhone 5s in 2013, which was the first device from Apple with the company’s proprietary fingerprint solution called TouchID.
Now almost every device is released with a fingerprint sensor and most popular operating systems have native ability to process fingerprint and other biometric data. Many service providers have also embedded fingerprint recognition in their apps. Ubiquity of fingerprint recognition becomes largely evident in case of mobile devices.
Fingerprint recognition has never been a mainstream method of vehicle access and control, however, that is about to change. Efforts of taking fingerprint recognition to vehicles have been underway for a while and manufacturers have started offering fingerprint solutions for vehicles.
Hyundai, a South Korean car manufacturer has recently announced a fingerprint based vehicle security and control system that will let people unlock cars and start engine using their fingerprints. The system will be introduced with Santa Fe SUV, which is set to launch in 2019. The system can register multiple drivers with their fingerprints. It will also load the driver preference like adjusting seat position and angle of rear view mirrors after fingerprint verification.
Soon, connected and driverless vehicle will be on the streets and fingerprint recognition is going to be a crucial method. A driverless taxi you booked on your smartphone app may require you to scan fingerprint before it lets you get on the vehicle.
Traditional methods are continually failing to serve today’s complex identification and authentication requirements. Sluggishness and security loopholes associated with traditional identification methods can be easily patched with biometric recognition.
Among all biometric modalities, fingerprint recognition has claimed a large portion of identification and authentication activities, which was earlier done with traditional means. It has not only resulted in faster identification and authentication but also greatly reduced human efforts and security concerns associated with traditional means of identity authentication.