Aware CTO on the cloud’s role in biometrics and Fortress Identity fit
As a cutting-edge technology closely associated with machine learning, big data and artificial intelligence, biometrics may not seem like a field that would be slow to adopt innovations in computing infrastructure. To hear Aware CTO Mohamed Lazzouni tell it, his company’s acquisition of Fortress Identity was largely motivated by the need to deliver its biometric authentication capabilities with a flexible cloud infrastructure as the industry adapts to new service and business models.
Lazzouni tells Biometric Update in an interview that Aware is seeking to evolve beyond the biometrics industry’s traditional way of doing things; which is not cloud-native.
The change is profound for both biometric providers and their customers, he explains, and includes not just technology but also business concerns.
“If you are used to doing it one way, purchasing software, managing software, installing software, and things like that and suddenly it all goes away, or course, retraining the workforce, and understanding new ideas, causes all kinds of barriers to entry to the market,” Lazzouni observes.
Part of Aware’s strategic plan, accordingly, is to de-risk market adoption with a targeted solution in one area, which will accelerate adoption.
That motivated criteria for search that ended with the Fortress Identity acquisition, which according to Lazzouni has so far delivered “Everything that we expected.”
Changing approaches to infrastructure
There are two forces currently slowing adoption, Lazzouni says.
Organizations dealing with major compliance burdens, from financial services to law enforcement, are hesitant to try anything new that may result in a step out of line with their regulatory regime.
The second is the business change noted above, which often must be made in a departure from the experience and to-date investments in training and skill development, of a whole range of stakeholders, from CISOs to data governance and security professionals.
“All of a sudden now you have to interact with a provider that offers you something that requires you to transact within our cloud,” Lazzouni describes the change. “Now that data starts to migrate from your system to someone else’s system where you need to now have some control over their mechanism of doing things, their governance of the process and whatnot. That creates natural anxiety and friction.”
Biometrics providers must choose between traditional and more innovative, cloud-native approaches to reassuring their prospective clients of the safety of the cloud, says Lazzouni. The latter involves concepts like zero trust, zero-knowledge and distributed nodes, which he says Aware uses to demonstrate that it can deliver on its compliance and security commitments.
“There is no reason for you to add security into your IT closet,” he argues, “you can consume it via the cloud if we give you assurances that we know how to do it and do it well.”
This approach is already winning converts, he says.
“We moved from markets to people who are intrigued. Those who are intrigued are moving to early adopters.”
Still, he cautions, “The burden of proof is on us.”
Securing the cloud
Architecture and education are the keys to winning over businesses that can benefit from moving to cloud biometrics implementations, Lazzouni says. There is always some hesitance on the part of customers to make any change that may involve risk, but “You can solve the problem via architecture and technical toolkits.”
One of the key technical tools Aware uses to deliver secure services over the cloud is stateless APIs.
“The data persists only as much as is needed to do the transaction, and then it’s immediately discarded after that,” he explains. “So in no way is the data then subject to PII governance rules and things of that nature.”
Early movers tend to be those with the most pressing and well-defined problem. In this case, that is financial services companies and fintechs. They need to rely on individuals operating their own, nonstandard devices, which “Brings with it a whole slew of interesting challenges.”
Their customers are extremely varied in terms of comfort with those devices, and solutions must accommodate their circumstances.
“You have to simplify it to the extreme in order to make the experience as palatable for people as possible,” Lazzouni says.
Companies are ultimately happy, however, to pass on the burden of removing friction from the process.
“When the fintech industry realized that they can hire the products and services of companies such as Aware, or the combination of Aware and Fortress ID to attack these problems and do it well,” says Lazzouni, “then you can now see the match and the speed of adoption.”
Aware’s platform is built to be “deployment agnostic,” according to Lazzouni. “We throw a toggle switch; it goes one way or the other, but what’s inside, the guts of it is the same.”
Likewise, the company’s whole portfolio is promoted the same way, and Lazzouni believes that all deployment types have a place in meeting the needs of different customers.
Cloud retains special importance, however.
“This particular segment, this area of the cloud, we see emerging as the connective tissue across the entire portfolio, whether it is for biometric search engines, or biometric orchestration, or biometric B2C applications, or whatever the case may be,” Lazzouni explains.
“To that end this has become central to our growth, our future, and the push that we are making in the marketplace,” he adds.
This is a part, he says, of the industry’s continuing maturation. Just a few years ago, biometrics were an afterthought; “somewhere in the end of your database or some field in some form you have something that says ‘if you need a biometric add it here.’ So you see the field and it goes. Those days are gone.”
Now, he sees demand for integrated service portfolio’s the customer can consumer on-demand, and likens the industry’s adoption curve to graphical services seven to ten years ago.
With this growth, however, comes an obligation biometrics providers have to the industry, citizens and stakeholders to honor their commitments, enhance safety and security “so they can trust us with their biometric data,” Lazzouni cautions. They must also be respectful of privacy, while helping with innovative business models “that make these solutions palatable, affordable and create value for stakeholders.”
With Fortress Identity in the fold, Lazzouni says Aware is doing just that.