Biometrics

Biometrics are measurable biological characteristics that are used for a wide range of identification purposes. In cybersecurity, biometrics refers to authentication techniques that rely on measurable physical characteristics. These characteristics are collected using specialized sensors and compared to existing records to authenticate a request.

Types of biometric identifiers

There are several types of biometric identifiers. The first category is physical biometrics, which include:

  • Face, the analysis of facial characteristics
  • Fingerprint, the analysis of an individual’s unique fingerprint
  • Hand geometry, the analysis of the shape of the hand and the length of the fingers
  • Palm veins, the analysis of the pattern of veins in the front and back of the hand and wrist
  • Retina, the analysis of the capillary vessels located at the back of the eye
  • Iris, the analysis of the colored ring that surrounds the eye’s pupil

The second category is behavioral biometrics, which include:

  • Signature, the analysis of the way an individual signs their name
  • Gait, the analysis of the way an individual walks
  • Voice, the analysis of an individual’s vocal intonation and inflection

How are biometrics used?

The most common use of biometrics today is in hardware security. Many smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other devices are embedded with biometric scanners that verify a user’s identity to unlock the device. One of the best examples of this is Apple’s Face ID technology.

Law enforcement agencies use biometric technology in the field of criminal forensics. Investigators can cross-reference a suspect or victim’s biometric sample with CJIS databases and other collected biometric data. A match can confirm a crime has been committed as well as the identities of the parties involved.

The healthcare industry uses biometric information to verify a patient’s identity, but providers can also use this data to enrich the patient’s health record. The rise of wearable computing and IoT devices has meant non-identifiable biometric data like heart rate, blood oxygen level, and activity levels are easier to collect. This data can help uncover underlying conditions and create a fuller picture of a patient’s health.

This article was updated by Kaiti Norton.

Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal is a freelance business and technology writer covering Internet technologies and online business since the late '90s.

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