Biometrics provides one solution to the security and identity-verification needs that confront businesses and government. In basic terms, biometric software analyses a physical feature to verify identity by comparing it to a stored version of the same feature. Some common types of biometrics include fingerprint scans, retinal scans and facial recognition. While the technology provides advantages, the imperfect nature of the technology also creates disadvantages.
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Most security systems depend on physical keys, cards or passwords, which users often lose or forget. The loss of keys and cards creates the possibility of unauthorised users gaining access to secure areas or data. Users cannot forget or lose, except in extreme circumstances, the physical characteristics that biometric software analyses. This simplifies providing access to, for example, high security areas, by tying access to a difficult-to-duplicate physical characteristic.
Biometric software also provides organisations with a means of reducing administrative costs. Organizations must track every key and card they issue to an employee or member. In the event of a key or card loss, the organisation must minimally record the loss and lock the card out of the system. Depending on the sensitivity of access, the loss may even require the replacement of locks. The organisation must then issue, record and track replacement cards or keys. Biometric software reduces the administrative load to one-time entry of biometric data and, when the employee or member leaves the organisation, a one-time lockout or deletion of data.
One core problem facing biometric software is the issue of false results. False results come in two main forms. Biometric systems sometime fail to recognise someone within the system. In other cases, the system falsely associates a person with another user in the system. Either type of error leads to a security issue.
The physical hardware that captures the biometric data and feeds it to the software sometimes suffers performance limitations. Poor lighting and even the position of the user can inhibit facial recognition software in real world settings. Build-up of dirt and grease, as well as smearing on sensors, limits the effectiveness of biometric software. Weather conditions, such as rain, snow and heat, can adversely affect biometric systems as well.
While there is widespread understanding of the benefits of biometric technologies, some concerns remain, with privacy at the top the list of objections, according to a 2009 research study conducted by TechCast. The very unique nature of biometric characteristics makes it possible to use them for tracking citizen movements to a degree that would constitute invasion of privacy. Other concerns include the security of the biometric data and the implementation costs.
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