Biometrics Not Really Secure

Two-factor and multi-factor authentication are becoming more important and more available as we struggle to secure our information from attackers. These factors are something you know, something you have, and something you are.   Biometrics (something you are) are one of the three factors used in computer, network, and application authentication.

Biometrics include thumbprint or fingerprint readers, palm scanners, iris and retinal scanners, facial recognition, speech recognition, and even arcane systems that detect your keyboard typing cadence or mousing movements to authenticate you to a system.  Many people ask me if biometrics are more secure than passwords, pins, authentication apps, fobs and USB keys. My answer is no, not really.

NIST, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, says that biometrics are acceptable as a factor in a two-factor or multi-factor authentication system, but are not secure enough when used alone.  There are two problems inherent in biometrics that make unsuitable by themselves for authentication.  The first problem is that biometrics are not secret.  We leave our thumb and fingerprints behind every time we pick up or touch another item.  And fingerprints have been successfully lifted using clear tape and used to pass authentication.  Pictures can beat facial recognition, and recordings can beat voice recognition.

So if you are considering using biometrics as part of your security system, understand the limitations and make sure your system is not easily spoofed.


About the Author:

Cybersecurity guru to business owners in the St Paul, Minneapolis, and western Wisconsin area. Computer security and hacking have been a passion of mine since I entered the computer and networking business in 2000. In 2013 I completed a course of study and certification exam to become a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). In 2016 I was certified as a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). As Cybersecurity Analyst at The WyzCo Group, I help our clients experience high levels of computer security, network security, and web site security. In addition to consulting on security products and services, we also conduct security audits, vulnerability assessments and full penetration tests. We also provide Cybersecurity Awareness Training for clients and their employees. We also work with companies and organizations that need to certify compliance with regulations such as PCI-DSS (credit card processing), HIPAA/HITECH (medical records), and GLBA. The views expressed on this Web site are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.

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