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2.3.2: Authentication Methods - Biometrics

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  • Biometrics

    Biometrics are body measurements and calculations related to human characteristics. Biometrics authentication (or realistic authentication) is used in computer science as a form of identification and access control. It is also used to identify individuals in groups that are under surveillance.

    Biometric identifiers are the distinctive, measurable characteristics used to label and describe individuals. Biometric identifiers are often categorized as physiological versus behavioral characteristics. Physiological characteristics are related to the shape of the body. Examples include, but are not limited to fingerprint, palm veins, face recognition, DNA, palm print, hand geometry, iris recognition, retina and odor/scent. Behavioral characteristics are related to the pattern of behavior of a person, including but not limited to typing rhythm, gait, keystroke, signature, behavioral profiling, and voice. Some researchers have coined the term behaviometrics to describe the latter class of biometrics.

    More traditional means of access control include token-based identification systems, such as a driver's license or passport, and knowledge-based identification systems, such as a password or personal identification number. Since biometric identifiers are unique to individuals, they are more reliable in verifying identity than token and knowledge-based methods; however, the collection of biometric identifiers raises privacy concerns about the ultimate use of this information.

    Biometric functionality

    Many different aspects of human physiology, chemistry or behavior can be used for biometric authentication. The selection of a particular biometric for use in a specific application involves a weighting of several factors. Jain et al. (1999) identified seven such factors to be used when assessing the suitability of any trait for use in biometric authentication.

    • Universality means that every person using a system should possess the trait.
    • Uniqueness means the trait should be sufficiently different for individuals in the relevant population such that they can be distinguished from one another.
    • Permanence relates to the manner in which a trait varies over time. More specifically, a trait with 'good' permanence will be reasonably invariant over time with respect to the specific matching algorithm.
    • Measurability (collectability) relates to the ease of acquisition or measurement of the trait. In addition, acquired data should be in a form that permits subsequent processing and extraction of the relevant feature sets.
    • Performance relates to the accuracy, speed, and robustness of technology used (see performance section for more details).
    • Acceptability relates to how well individuals in the relevant population accept the technology such that they are willing to have their biometric trait captured and assessed.
    • Circumvention relates to the ease with which a trait might be imitated using an artifact or substitute.

    Proper biometric use is very application dependent. Certain biometrics will be better than others based on the required levels of convenience and security. No single biometric will meet all the requirements of every possible application.

    The block diagram illustrates the two basic modes of a biometric system. First, in verification (or authentication) mode the system performs a one-to-one comparison of a captured biometric with a specific template stored in a biometric database in order to verify the individual is the person they claim to be. Three steps are involved in the verification of a person.[5] In the first step, reference models for all the users are generated and stored in the model database. In the second step, some samples are matched with reference models to generate the genuine and impostor scores and calculate the threshold. The third step is the testing step. This process may use a smart card, username or ID number (e.g. PIN) to indicate which template should be used for comparison. 'Positive recognition' is a common use of the verification mode, "where the aim is to prevent multiple people from using the same identity".

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Biometric System ("Biometric System" by Multiple ContributorsWikipedia is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Second, in identification mode the system performs a one-to-many comparison against a biometric database in an attempt to establish the identity of an unknown individual. The system will succeed in identifying the individual if the comparison of the biometric sample to a template in the database falls within a previously set threshold. Identification mode can be used either for 'positive recognition' (so that the user does not have to provide any information about the template to be used) or for 'negative recognition' of the person "where the system establishes whether the person is who she (implicitly or explicitly) denies to be". The latter function can only be achieved through biometrics since other methods of personal recognition such as passwords, PINs or keys are ineffective.

    The first time an individual uses a biometric system is called enrollment. During enrollment, biometric information from an individual is captured and stored. In subsequent uses, biometric information is detected and compared with the information stored at the time of enrollment. Note that it is crucial that storage and retrieval of such systems themselves be secure if the biometric system is to be robust. The first block (sensor) is the interface between the real world and the system; it has to acquire all the necessary data. Most of the times it is an image acquisition system, but it can change according to the characteristics desired. The second block performs all the necessary pre-processing: it has to remove artifacts from the sensor, to enhance the input (e.g. removing background noise), to use some kind of normalization, etc. In the third block, necessary features are extracted. This step is an important step as the correct features need to be extracted in an optimal way. A vector of numbers or an image with particular properties is used to create a template. A template is a synthesis of the relevant characteristics extracted from the source. Elements of the biometric measurement that are not used in the comparison algorithm are discarded in the template to reduce the filesize and to protect the identity of the enrollee. However, depending on the scope of the biometric system, original biometric image sources may be retained such as the PIV-cards used in the Federal Information Processing Standard Personal Identity Verification (PIV) of Federal Employees and Contractors (FIPS 201).

    During the enrollment phase, the template is simply stored somewhere (on a card or within a database or both). During the matching phase, the obtained template is passed to a matcher that compares it with other existing templates, estimating the distance between them using any algorithm (e.g. Hamming distance). The matching program will analyze the template with the input. This will then be output for a specified use or purpose (e.g. entrance in a restricted area), though it is a fear that the use of biometric data may face mission creep. In selecting a particular biometric, factors to consider include, performance, social acceptability, ease of circumvention and/or spoofing, robustness, population coverage, size of equipment needed and identity theft deterrence. The selection of a biometric is based on user requirements and considers sensor and device availability, computational time and reliability, cost, sensor size, and power consumption.


    The discriminating powers of all biometric technologies depend on the amount of entropy they are able to encode and use in matching. The following are used as performance metrics for biometric systems:

    • False match rate (FMR, also called FAR = False Accept Rate): the probability that the system incorrectly matches the input pattern to a non-matching template in the database. It measures the percent of invalid inputs that are incorrectly accepted. In case of similarity scale, if the person is an imposter in reality, but the matching score is higher than the threshold, then he is treated as genuine. This increases the FMR, which thus also depends upon the threshold value.
    • False non-match rate (FNMR, also called FRR = False Reject Rate): the probability that the system fails to detect a match between the input pattern and a matching template in the database. It measures the percent of valid inputs that are incorrectly rejected.
    • Receiver operating characteristic or relative operating characteristic (ROC): The ROC plot is a visual characterization of the trade-off between the FMR and the FNMR. In general, the matching algorithm performs a decision based on a threshold that determines how close to a template the input needs to be for it to be considered a match. If the threshold is reduced, there will be fewer false non-matches but more false accepts. Conversely, a higher threshold will reduce the FMR but increase the FNMR. A common variation is the Detection error trade-off (DET), which is obtained using normal deviation scales on both axes. This more linear graph illuminates the differences for higher performances (rarer errors).
    • Equal error rate or crossover error rate (EER or CER): the rate at which both acceptance and rejection errors are equal. The value of the EER can be easily obtained from the ROC curve. The EER is a quick way to compare the accuracy of devices with different ROC curves. In general, the device with the lowest EER is the most accurate.
    • Failure to enroll rate (FTE or FER): the rate at which attempts to create a template from an input is unsuccessful. This is most commonly caused by low-quality inputs.
    • Failure to capture rate (FTC): Within automatic systems, the probability that the system fails to detect a biometric input when presented correctly.
    • Template capacity: the maximum number of sets of data that can be stored in the system.

    Adapted from:
    "Biometrics" by Multiple ContributorsWikipedia is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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