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Debunking the top 5 myths of biometrics

Categories Industry Insights

I have personally been in the Biometrics industry for a very long time, it has been over a decade. Throughout these years, I have had my own businesses, ranging all the way from selling actual Biometric hardware, such as the iris scanners, hand geometry scanners, and even the fingerprint scanners, to now offering technical writing services about all of these technologies. I am a very active blogger as well, and blog almost every day. Throughout these years of being in Biometrics, I have been privileged to meet all sorts of people, from all walks of life whom are interested in this kind of stuff. I think I have learned more about Biometrics in talking to people and sharing my ideas with them than any college textbook can teach. So, in my first blog posting for BiometricUpdate.com, I thought I would share some of the myths people have had Biometrics over my tenure, and how I have helped to debunk those myths. So, here we go:

Myth #1: Did the James Bond movies spawn the growth of Biometrics technology?

Writer’s note: Yes, I have been asked this question.

Debunking Myth #1: No, the James Bond movies did not start the growth of Biometrics. This science and technology has been around for a very long time, starting with the fingerprint and hand geometry recognition scanners dating all the way back to the 1960’s.

Myth #2: When my eye or finger gets scanned, is it the actual image of it which is stored and used to confirm my identity?

Debunking Myth #2: When you first register to any kind of Biometric system, yes the actual physiological image or behavioral trait is used to create the template. But typically, this raw image gets converted into a mathematical file, which is subsequently stored and used to confirm your identity. Actual images are never really stored in Biometric systems.

Myth #3: Can I get a disease from contact with a Biometric system?

Debunking Myth #3: Pretty much all Biometric systems require some sort of direct, physical contact with it. But there have been no known cases in which somebody has actually contracted a serious illness from direct contact with a Biometric scanner. There is a trend now occurring in which some Biometric systems do not require direct contact. The best known examples of this are Vein Pattern Recognition and Iris Recognition.

Myth #4: If my Biometric template gets stolen, will identity be stolen? Is it the same as credit card theft?

Debunking Myth #4: In an absolute sense, yes, it can be considered ID Theft. But think about it. A
Biometric template is just a mathematical file. If somebody were to steal it, what can they do with it? Each vendor has their own proprietary systems, so you cannot steal one template and expect to use it another, different Biometric system. And no, it is not the same as credit card theft. You have a much greater chance of somebody trying to “clone” your identity with your credit card number than your Biometric template.

Myth #5: Can you take out the eyeball from a dead body and use that at a scanner at a local ATM Machine?

Writer’s note: Seriously, I have been asked this question also.

Debunking Myth #5: No, this is not possible. Pretty much all Biometric systems require a live scan sample. Meaning, you have to be a living person, with a discernable heartbeat in order to be registered into a Biometric system.

Yes, believe it or not, these are the questions I have been asked by literally hundreds of people over my decade of dealing with Biometrics. To a Biometrics professional, these questions may seem irrational and even ridiculous, but they are legitimate questions. The truth is that in our society, the public at large has many misconceptions of what Biometrics is really all about. And, these questions are actually ingrained in the scope of the technology itself. If you think about it, if you imagine a spectrum of all of the security technologies which are available, Biometrics is the one technology which has the most social impact. This is so because it is a piece of our individuality (whether it is physiological or behavioral) is being taken away from us and being scanned by a technology which the average person will not typically understand. Our next posting will expand more on these Biometric myths, and discuss in more detail the societal impacts of Biometrics.

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13 Replies to “Debunking the top 5 myths of biometrics”

  1. I beg your pardon Mr Das, your myths are strawmen. What about tackling some of the real myths in biometrics, the misconceptions with real consequences perpertuated by vendors?

    Myth: biometrics measure “unique” traits.
    Truth: no biometric has a false match rate of zero, so no biometric measurement is ever unique.

    Myth: Biometrics can’t be stolen or reverse engineered.
    Truth: Every biometric in theory can be mimicked and replayed. In practice some are comically easy to spoof. The TV show “Mythbusters” shows that fingerprint scanners claimed by vendors to have never been defeated could be spoofed. And in recent years, biometric templates have been reverse engineered, firstly for fingerprints, then face, and most recently iris. The reality that any biometric can be replayed needs to be weighed carefully considering that on the other hand, no commercial biometric can be cancelled and reissued if compromised.

    Myth: Palm scanner False Acceptance Rate FAR is less than 0.00008% AND False Reject Rate FRR is less than 0.01%
    Truth: The Detection Error Tradeoff (DET) curve for vascular palm scanning, which is kept secret by manufacturers and re-sellers, shows that when FAR = 0.0001%, the False Match rate is worse than 1 in 5, and when the FRR = 0.01%<< THE False Reject Rate is 1% or ten thousand times worse than advertised (Reference: International Biometric Group CBT6, 2006).

    Semi-Myth: Biometrics enable cardless ATMs
    Whole Truth: The price you pay for getting rid of the physical factor in 1:N biometric identification is you still need a PIN to resolve False Matches, and in practice, Japanese palm scanning ATMs ask customers for their birth date as well.

  2. Ravi Das:

    Bio Template can be switched easily. I work with this system. I know how easy it is to switch entire Biometrics and switch it among as many as people’s Bio you prefer.

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