Biometrics Makes Security More Practical

Erik Michielsen
Erik Michielsen

Mr. Michielsen, how has the global market for biometric authentication systems developed in recent years, and what is the forecast for the coming years?

Michielsen: Biometrics market development, innovation, and maturity has been driven by government and enterprise needs to provide better security in the form of more accurate identification and authentication solutions. This market shows no signs of letting up, with Microsoft and IBM pushing fingerprint biometric deployments across enterprise PC server solutions and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) promoting biometrics beyond its police and FBI criminal identification roots and into entry and exit border control monitoring solutions.

Government deployments at the federal, state, and local levels will continue to buoy biometrics market growth over the next five years. However, as the technology benefits, namely ease-of-use and differentiated security, coagulate into a more substantive, lower-cost, less-intrusive value proposition for consumers, new applications will proliferate across financial, healthcare, and retail sectors. In retail, for example, biometric fingerprint scanners are being used to validate and execute point of sale purchases and, in some cases, being used to replace cash and card-based transactions.
ABI Research forecasts global biometric market revenues to increase from $494 million in 2003 to $9.1 billion in 2010. This includes hardware, software, algorithms, and integration services.

Are there national differences in this development?

Michielsen: National differences continue to decrease. Established in June 2002, the technical committee ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC37 was created as an international body focused on both global and regional biometrics standards development across the range of technologies. Before ISO SC37, Europe and the United States had different bodies. SC37’s goal is to enable development of interoperable biometric systems upon which vendors can develop products.

The terrorist attacks of September 11 have led to a general increase in the demand for biometric security systems. What other factors are driving growth in the market?

Michielsen: The reaction to September 11 enabled the Government to unleash an ad hoc push to standardize biometric technology. Now, there is new legislation, new requirements, and new standards that provide a much-needed framework for biometric homeland security projects across border security and infrastructure protection. This increased biometric focus is progressively impacting the private sector across financial services, health care, and retail vertical markets.

What factors will put the brakes on growth?

Michielsen: Device-independent standards do not address software issues in biometrics. Standards are simply not far enough along to address what most vendors feel is the most common component of an identification solution: software. Biometric software must be interoperable across biometric technologies if those technologies will be jointly used in the application – for example face and finger – and second, if the software market plans to transition from fragmented to standardized in nature.

Additionally, the lack of industry coordination across biometrics technologies, like face, finger, iris or voice, and within each biometric technology sector is deterring growth. The lack comes from an industry-wide mentality that is dedicated solely to the pursuit of narrow closed-minded agendas. This includes standards participation to further individual agendas and objectives. This mentality drowns the integrity of the standards themselves and provides an incentive for companies to think individually and defensively in forums designed to promote sharing, interoperability, and cooperation.

What have been the major technological advances in this area?

Michielsen: While biometric technologies continue to increase in performance capability, a key technological breakthrough has been the transition from standalone biometric solutions to integrated card-biometric solutions. One example is using a biometric, for example, a fingerprint, in conjunction with a contactless identification card. This card-biometric solution is being used at Paris’ Charles-de-Gaulle Airport.

For years, the biometrics and smartcard industries were at odds. The smartcard industry suffered the same closed-mindedness that struck down biometrics. Both industries pushed standalone solutions that refused to be interoperable with other technologies. Now, the two industries cooperate to provide identity solutions.

Where are the main weak points?

Michielsen: Biometrics is simply a means of enhancing or automating the recognition process. The issue is not whether biometric security is perfect. The issue is whether it makes the situation more secure or makes security more practical than would otherwise be the case and at a cost that is proportional to the gain. The industry and biometric end-users are progressively understanding that it is not about 100 per cent accurate biometric solutions but multi-modal identity solutions that provide security, authorization, and identification levels consummate with business case needs.

If companies assume biometric is only worthwhile in environments where the technology works 100 per cent of the time, numerous business and security opportunities will be unnecessarily set aside due to misunderstood biometric value propositions in the market.

Biometric data is highly sensitive, and measures for the widespread use of identification systems therefore require the involvement of data protection experts. In addition, critics stress that the technologies for biometric identification have not yet been developed sufficiently to allow wide-scale use, such as in passports, a measure that the EU plans to introduce by 2006. What is your opinion on this?

Michielsen: The key to widespread biometrics adoption is in more refined, scalable, and available biometric / identity solutions software and integration services. In addition to difficulties associated with combining biometrics into multi-modal solutions, individual biometrics must create interoperable solutions across software, databases, networks, and processes to ensure accurate enrollment, information capture, data model structuring, digital representation storage, and application support.

The critics come from two strong angles: One is tied to technology fragmentation and that biometrics has been anything but linear in its progress toward delivering a clear value proposition to the market. The second is performance and security related and the disconnect between what the technology can do and what market expectations believe it is supposed to do.

Which areas – such as access control, IT security, or payment transactions – are the most promising in terms of business volume?

Michielsen: The consumer markets – mobile commerce and network security – are the ultimate biometrics opportunity from a volume perspective. Aerospace & Defense, Criminal Identification, and Homeland Security will continue as strong markets that grow globally.

The most well-known biometric methods are identification by a person’s fingerprint, iris, or facial features. Which of these technologies are best suited to which areas of application?

Michielsen: In the private sector, finger and face recognition are well-positioned for future growth due to low equipment costs. The greatest growth will occur in mobile handsets and computers as fingerprint and face recognition are progressively used to replace or complement passwords. Speech authentication solutions share similar features as they are software dependent; however, this technology is not as mature as face and finger and, hence, will be adopted at a lower rate.

Within aerospace and defense, criminal identification, and homeland security, a multitude of biometric technologies will be implemented. The more expensive, more accurate iris recognition technology has more acceptable business cases in these environments and will be used when face and finger are not seen as fit.

For many, biometrics still has an element of science fiction about it. By when do you think biometric systems will have become established in wider sections of the public?

Michielsen: Wider adoption will come as consumers are educated on how practical biometric identification solutions can provide secure value by eliminating passwords, reducing theft, increasing security in a non-intrusive setting. The homeland security and transportation initiatives will go a long way toward educating the public and fostering more responsible, more cooperative, and more secure identity solution organization focus that ultimately will drive industry growth into the next decade.

How can it be ensured that biometric data cannot be abused?

Michielsen: It is critical to create monitoring and control standards bodies and to ensure the data is stored safely and according to articulated, internationl security rules. This is nothing new, but, nonetheless, is critically important to creating an educated biometric marketplace.

ABI Research provides further information on the market oportunities of biometerics in the study Biometrics & Identity Management.