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Eye scans and fingerprints: Covering biometric authentication

April 20, 2017

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Iris scan is one of several technologies used in biometric authentication. (Photo by TBIT via Pexels, CC0)

As data hacks proliferate, financial institutions, government agencies and others are fighting back on multiple fronts. Many are piloting or implementing biometric authentication, using voice prints, facial recognition, eye scans and other physical characteristics to verify a user’s identity.

It sounds like a scene from a James Bond movie, but the science is basic. A biometric system records records a person’s voice, fingerprint or other physical trait and translates it into code. The code is placed on file; the next time you use the system, your physical trait is matched against the code.

Readers may not know the technical jargon, but they could already be interacting with biometrics. For instance, they might use a fingerprint to unlock their smartphone or log into a mobile banking app. Or if they’re part of NEXUS, a program that expedites border-crossings between the U.S. and Canada, they might undergo an iris scan. The technology is intriguing and the industry is full of potential business stories.

Questions to consider as you cover biometrics

• Why and how are local companies using biometrics? Is fraud prevention or customer demand for faster ID verification driving this? How much does it cost to pilot and implement these programs? Are firms in your area developing this technology or helping businesses integrate it into their user experience?

• Why now? The technology behind biometric authentication has been around for awhile, but it wasn’t widely used. Why is it now becoming more popular? Do experts think it’s because of new legislation, such as New York’s new cybersecurity rule, or heightened awareness about the risks of identity theft? Or is it other factors like the growing popularity of smartphones, which essentially put a camera and fingerprint scanner in everyone’s pockets?

• When customers can simply recite a phrase like “my voice is my password” instead of reciting their address, mother’s maiden name and other identifiers, does it speed up customer service interactions? Does it reduce fraud? Try to get relevant stats on customer satisfaction, adoption or other metrics.


Reporter’s Resources

• Biometrics Institute: A global forum of biometrics users in 27 countries, with offices in Sydney and London. Their research or analysis may be helpful in understanding the global picture.

• Nextgov: For those covering how government agencies use biometrics, Nextgov is a resource for federal technology decision makers and may help provide context or spark ideas that could be localized.

• College professors: Computer science or engineering professors from a local college or university may have detailed knowledge of how this technology works and how it’s evolved over time.

• Consulting companies: Most of the large consulting companies have partners, analysts and others with specialized knowledge of cybersecurity and biometrics. Keep an eye out for industry reports and statistics from these firms, and contact them for expert commentary.

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