What are biometrics?

Biometrics Research Group, Inc. defines biometrics as measurable physical and behavioral characteristics that enable the establishment and verification of an individual’s identity.

Biometrics is the process by which a person’s unique physical and other traits are detected and recorded by an electronic device or system as a means of confirming identity. The term “biometrics” derives from the word “biometry”, which refers to the statistical analysis of biological observations and phenomena.

Since biometric identifiers are unique to individuals, they are more reliable in verifying identity than token and knowledge-based methods, such as identity cards and passwords.

Biometric identifiers, or modalities, are often categorized as either “physiological” or “behavioral”. Physiological biometric identifiers are related to a person’s physicality and include: fingerprint recognition, hand geometry, odour/scent, iris scans, DNA, palm print and facial recognition. Behavioral characteristics are related to the pattern of behavior of a person and include: keystroke dynamics, gait analysis, voice recognition, mouse use characteristics, signature analysis and cognitive biometrics.

Biometric technologies are systems or applications that are designed to employ biometric data derived from biometric identifiers or modalities. A biometric system is an automated process that: i) collects or captures biometric data via a biometric identification device, such as an image scanner for fingerprints or palm vein patterns or a camera to collect facial and iris scans, ii) extracts the data from the actual submitted sample, iii) compares the scanned data from those captured for reference, iv) matches the submitted sample with templates and v) determines or verifies whether the identity of the biometric data holder is authentic.

Biometric technologies therefore consist of both hardware and software. A biometric identification device is hardware that gathers, reads and compares biometric data. Biometric data is a sample taken from individual which is unique to their own person. Software embedded within biometric technologies includes a biometric engine that processes gathered biometric data. The software typically works in tandem with the hardware to operate the biometric data capture process, extract the data, and undertake comparison, including data matching.

Biometric technologies can also be classified further according to the type of biometrics being used in the system. The technologies are typically used to either identify persons and their characteristic against a database, such as criminal records, or to authenticate the identity of persons to grant them access to computing resources, devices or facilities.

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