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Individual biometric data could open the way to more secure and convenient technological options, but it’s not foolproof, says Matt Pluckrose

Biometrics determines the measurable characteristics of living organisms, such as DNA or facial recognition. With Apple’s Face ID, infrared lighting is used to retrieve a good image of a person’s face to unlock a smartphone or tablet. Biometric authentication has now been included in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The use of biometrics has grown enormously over the past years. You can unlock your smartphone by using your fingerprint and you are able to go through customs at the airport by scanning your eye.

William Herschel used handprints in 1858 to identify employees. However, it was only in the early 80s that the relation with technology was acknowledged with security applications for mainframe computers.

We are increasingly aware of how useful biometric authentication can be used to bypass remembering codes or passwords. The blink of an eye can provide access. Governments already use biometric information for passports. It is not an issue-free solution.

If something happens to your eye, you will not simply ‘get’ a new one. Fingerprints are everywhere and could be hacked from your iPhone. In China, people have been able to unlock each other’s iPhones by means of Face ID, which apparently is not able to make a good distinction of Chinese facial features.

A security option is to hash biometric characteristics, which means you use one-way encryption. For example, a fingerprint is adapted by technology and can be printed like a barcode, making it harder to copy the fingerprint. However, at the moment the technology is not exact. In future, biometrics will be more commonplace and that includes impacting on merchandise. It could pay to investigate its potential now.

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