Frequently asked questions

Biometrics are a general term used alternatively to describe a characteristic or a process.

• As a characteristic: a biometric is a measurable biological (anatomical and physiological) and behavioral characteristic that can be used for automated recognition.
• As a process: a biometric is an automated method of recognizing an individual based on measurable biological (anatomical and physiological) and behavioral characteristics.

Biometrics commonly implemented or studied include fingerprint, face, iris, voice, signature, and hand geometry Many other modalities are in various stages of development and assessment.

There is not one biometric modality that is best for all implementations. Many factors must be taken into account when implementing a biometric device including location, security risks, task (identification or verification), expected number of users, user circumstances, existing data, etc. It is also important to note that biometric modalities are in varying stages of maturity. For example, fingerprint recognition has been used for over a century while iris recognition is a little more than a decade old. It should be noted that maturity is not related to which technology is the best, but can be an indicator of which technologies have more implementation experience.

Recognition is a generic term, and does not necessarily imply either verification or identification. All biometricsystems perform “recognition” to “again know” a person who has been previously enrolled.

Verification is a task where the biometric system attempts to confirm an individual’s claimed identity by comparing a submitted sample to one or more previously enrolled templates.

Identification is a task where the biometric system attempts to determine the identity of an individual. Abiometric is collected and compared to all the templates in a database. Identification is ‘closed-set’ if the person is known to exist in the database. In ‘open-set’ identification, sometimes referred to as a ‘watchlist’ the person is not guaranteed to exist in the database. The system must determine whether the person is in the database.

No. The fingerprint readers never capture or store an image of your actual fingerprint. Rather, the fingerprint sensor identifies unique minutiae points and measurements within your fingerprint and creates a digital template (not an image) for matching.

Once a person stops growing their fingerprints and other biometrics are largely constant.

One myth is that biometrics are new and unsafe. Biometrics in the modern world are as old as the use of a signature, or the attaching of a photo to a document. The safe and secure storage of your biometrics should be no more concerning than providing your billing information to the businesses you already trust with your personal details. Almost all identity theft today happens from traditional sources (for instance, stealing or making drivers licenses or passports). In fact, biometrics can act to help protect your identity. It’ll be a lot harder in the future for an acrimonious relationship breakup to result in a partner creating havoc in your life because they know all your passwords or secret answers, and it’ll also be a lot harder for criminals to take over your identity. Examples abound of the break-down of traditional identity systems based on name matching where the wrong people are detained, and sometimes even jailed because of a lack of other ways to establish identity.

On average biometrics these days are not much more expensive than most other secure second factors. Many biometric systems work from relatively inexpensive sensors such as cameras or phones, and even fingerprint sensors these days can be made cheaply enough that they are starting to become standard on laptops.

Biological biometrics cannot easily be changed (there have been cases of mutilated or surgically altered fingerprints), but they can be disguised. It may be possible to change a behavioral biometric.

This question is subjective and depends on each individual. Those users more familiar with electronics technology tend to have fewer issues than those who are not familiar or are skeptical about using technology. From the operational perspective, most people are able to use a biometric system with very little training. Once I register my biometric, will that registration be good anywhere that specific technology is used? In general, no. A biometric registered on one system will typically not be valid for another system on which that biometric might be used. However, if the system on which the biometric was registered is connected to another system, e.g. via a network, then yes, a biometric could also be accepted at the alternate system location.

Biometrics are typically collected using a device called a sensor. These sensors are used to acquire the data needed for recognition and to convert the data to a digital form. The quality of the sensor used has a significant impact on the recognition results. Example ‘sensors’ could be digital cameras (for face recognition) or a telephone (for voice recognition).

A biometric template is a digital representation of an individual’s distinct characteristics, representing information extracted from a biometric sample. Biometric templates are what are actually compared in a biometric recognition system. Templates can vary between biometric modalities as well as vendors. Not all biometric devices are template based. For example, voice recognition is based on “models.” The difference between templates and models is beyond the scope of this paper.

Biometrics are being used in many locations to enhance the security and convenience of the society. Example deployments within the United States Government include the FBI’s IAFIS, the US-VISIT program, the Transportation Workers Identification Credentials (TWIC) program, and the Registered Traveler (RT) program. These deployments are intended to strengthen the security and convenience in their respective environments. Many companies are also implementing biometric technologies to secure areas, maintain time records, and enhance user convenience. For example, for many years Disney World has employed biometric devices for season ticket holders to expedite and simplify the process of entering its parks.