Guess Who? The game of authentication

January 14, 2016 - 

This is a guest post by Amit Desai, Senior Director of Solutions Marketing at Verint-Systems.

While we have all become used to facing a barrage of security questions whenever we wish to access our telephone banking or similar services, the frustration of forgetting the fifty-fourth letter of your secret password never lessens. Thankfully, the rise of voice biometrics promises to end the long game of Guess Who during those telephone based customer interactions.

The threat of getting it wrong

With identity theft on the rise and recent figures showing that 19 people per minute are falling victim to fraud, the issue of security has never been higher on the agenda. Targeting anything from banking to mobile phone accounts, prying thieves are becoming more sophisticated when it comes to stealing identities. The wider impact on both businesses and the consumer is substantial. Just recently, Financial Fraud Action UK found that the cost of telephone banking fraud rose 95 percent to £14.4m in the first half of 2015, compared with the same period last year.

One of the key points of vulnerability in relation to fraud and identity theft is the call center. However, the contact center remains a vital engine in delivering customer satisfaction and loyalty. When it comes to providing a positive and memorable experience, consumers value speed and convenience above all else. A study of customer service we commissioned recently found that 81 percent of consumers just want their questions answered and, on average, almost half feel that companies that deal with their requests quickly deliver a better experience than those that don’t.

Companies today must strike a difficult balance between engendering customer loyalty on the one hand, and guaranteeing the security of their data on the other. Businesses need to work harder to combat the potentially crippling impact of fraud, without compromising on the customer experience. Not only do such cases damage business reputation, they face hefty fines if found in breach of customer data and security regulations. But in the bid to fight fraud and accurately identify customers, what’s the alternative to this Guess Who-style questioning?

It’s all in the voice

Each of our voices is uniquely identifiable in the same way as a finger print or eye retina. Our voices are truly unique to each individual and impossible to forge. What is more, significant advances in voice biometrics technology have drastically increased the accuracy of analyzing and identifying voice signatures in real time.

Implementing a voice biometric system to verify customers’ identity negates the need for irritating security questions and would notify contact center agents within seconds if there’s a potential risk. The same technology could even detect if customers are distressed – for example if they are under duress, all from the sound of their voice. This unique ability is not possessed by any other form of authentication in existence.

For all of these benefits, adoption of voice biometrics has been relatively slow to date. One of the biggest concerns over voice biometrics relates to the perceived feasibility of a ‘perfect’ voice print. Background noise, illness and even ageing, all contribute to changes in our voice. These objections are based on a fundamental misconception of how the technology works today. When we as human-beings hear a voice, we hear accent, tone, words and emotion. In comparison voice biometric technology picks up much more minute nuances in the individual’s throat, larynx, mouth and nose, to form a digital ‘voiceprint’ which we as human beings fail to register.

Though these voiceprints are liable to variations – much like our written signatures – the underlying characteristics are less prone to change. It is these underlying features that voice biometrics is designed to detect. The resulting voiceprints are therefore truly unique, even recognizing the difference between identical twins. As a result, today’s voice biometric systems can reliably authenticate callers by phone irrespective of their circumstances.

The role of the Government

The Government has a key role to play in encouraging the adoption of voice biometrics in day-to-day use. A recent Parliamentary report criticized the Government for failing to have a strategy around biometrics. The government needs to work with external parties and experts in this area to inform and developed a considered and effective voice biometrics strategy. Public sector organizations could greatly benefit from adopting voice biometrics in order to achieve cost efficiency, as well as allaying consumer concerns around fraud and identity theft. The public sector has a unique role to play in encouraging mainstream adoption of biometrics technology.

Slow death of the password

Organizations across the private and public sectors are beginning to recognize that typed passwords – and the dizzying array of security questions that act as fail-safes – are reaching the end of their useful lives. Voice biometrics have reached a level of maturity and sophistication and the technology can provide a fast, painless, and highly effective form of authentication – one that will help engage customers, as well as protecting them. Looking ahead to 2016 we expect to see voice biometrics and authentication become increasingly mainstream.

DISCLAIMER: BiometricUpdate.com Brand Focus articles are submitted content. The views expressed in this article are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BiometricUpdate.com.

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About Amit Desai

Amit Desai is Sr. Director of Solutions Marketing at Verint Systems. Amit's professional career has included executive roles in products and marketing at voice biometrics, speech recognition, and analytics software companies in Silicon Valley. Amit studied computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.