Explainer: Verification vs. Identification Systems
Biometrics are typically applied to identify a person or verify a claimed identity. Identification and verification are different processes that play similar roles in different kinds of security systems. Though the two concepts overlap and are sometimes used interchangeably in public discourse, there are critical distinctions that must be noted.
Identification is the task of answering: “Who is this person?” It consists of receiving data about an unknown individual, such as a photo of their face, their voice biometrics or fingerprints, and comparing it to a larger database to uncover a potential match. Identification systems are described as a 1-to-n matching system (sometime written ‘1:N’), where n is the total number of biometrics in the database. Identification tends to take longer than verification, as the algorithm must compare the reference data against a larger set of subjects to find a match.
Forensics labs are one example of an identification operation, as they store large banks of biometric data ranging from fingerprints and DNA samples collected at a crime scene. That information is then compared to newly-provided samples to prove the presence of the suspect.
Verification asks “Is the person who they say they are?” A person identifies as a certain user, and must provide proof they can confirm their identity compared to already-stored data. Verification is a 1-to-1 (or ‘1:1’) matching system because it aims to match a specific individual, rather than cast a wide net to find similarities in the identification process. Also, verification usually works more rapidly than identification, as it filters for highly-specific parameters in a smaller database.
Authentication is another concept in biometric matching, closely aligned with verification. A similar process to that used in identity verification is applied to subsequent interactions to authenticate that the person is the same one whose identity has previously been verified.
Consumer technologies such as smartphones employ verification to unlock their use, often with the application of fingerprint scanners or facial recognition systems.