Biometrics In The Spotlight

Will Apple’s fingerprint-reading iPhone do for biometric authentication what tablets and Skype did for kiosk banking?


There are several biometric options currently available to credit unions as part of a comprehensive multi-factor authentication strategy. Popular examples include voice recognition and keystroke analysis which measures the speed at which you type.

But one of the biggest impediments to actually using this technology successfully has been consumer education.

Occasionally, users who are unfamiliar with these systems or whose physical traits have changed over time may find themselves locked out of their accounts. And one such bad experience with biometrics can turn members off these options for life.

But with the advent of Apple’s iPhone 5s, millions of consumers will soon gain a more in-depth familiarity with one of the most common forms of biometric authentication, fingerprint analysis.

While much more secure than a pin or password, fingerprint analysis is not bulletproof. Fake “gummy” prints made out of gelatin were able to fool early, less sophisticated scanners, says Wired. And hacker communities seeking bug bounties, bragging rights, or an access point for criminal activities are already lining up to try and find weaknesses in this new Apple system.

However, the company assures its option will also have several crosschecks (which could include scanning beyond the fingerprint ridges to the subdermal layers or monitoring for body heat) to ensure that the person whose finger is being scanned is actually present, as well as alive and well, during the authentication.

So what does all this mean for credit unions?

One, as Apple and other technology giants continue to raise the bar, those who are already offering biometrics or are looking to implement them going forward will be held to a much higher standard.

Two, cooperatives may also be able to leverage the increased consumer awareness that these larger companies generate to more effectively promote such options to their own membership.

A similar situation occurred when self-service kiosks were first implemented in branches — the technology was there, but members hadn’t had enough experience using these options in the consumer context to be comfortable with them in a financial one.

Today, with the prevalence of iPads and other tablet technology, along with video chat, complex interfaces such as remote teller units are more easily accepted by the general population. Some institutions even choose to circumvent this barrier altogether by using the same exact technology members use in their daily lives, but in a branch context.

While the new iPhone may not send consumers clamoring for biometrics in droves, it will at the very least increase awareness about more secure authentication alternatives and clear the path for financial institutions looking to use these options.


Sept. 20, 2013



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