How Reliable Is Biometric Technology?

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The reliability of biometric technology is increasing all the time. There are also many different levels of sophistication among the biometric devices on the market. For example, biometric technology that is utilized to authenticate the user of a consumer device is typically far less sophisticated than the type of biometric technology one would see used at a military installation, a hospital or another location that needs very tight security.

The National Academies Press released a report in 2010 that addressed some of the issues with biometrics and some of the potential of it. Biometric technology does, like any other technology, have a chance of error. With biometric technology, the error potential is either falsely identifying the wrong person as someone who has access to a resource or failing to authenticate someone who does have access. These issues largely come down to issues related to the systems themselves, the level of technology utilized and, mathematically speaking, the fact that any security system has a chance of failure. With biometric technology, that chance of failure is very low compared to other options.

Understanding Reliability

The most common alternatives to biometric access control are using mechanical keys and locks or using physical identification cards to identify an individual. Taking a look at those systems, it is easy to see why biometric systems have become very popular, despite some of the reservations that technology experts have brought up.

Systems that use physical devices – such as mechanical locks and keys – always have potential for failure, not only in the mechanical sense, but in the human sense. If a human becomes disloyal to the company for which they work or has a reason to cause malicious harm to an installation, it’s easy enough for them to pass along their key to someone who would be interested in actually taking a malicious action.

Forging physical identifications has been something that certain criminals have demonstrated expertise in for many decades. In fact, even with some of the more advanced technologies used to produce them, identification cards can generally be forged fairly easily.

Biometric data actually cannot be forged without very advanced technology and other a lot of advanced knowledge of the system that the forger intends to bypass. For instance, a biometric system that scans someone’s hand may not actually scan the entire hand, but only the fingerprints. The hand itself, however, could provide biometric data – conductivity, the presence of moisture, etc. – that could also be used to authenticate it as real.

Biometric technology is constantly being improved. It is reliable already, but the potential for error is consistently being reduced by advances in technology that allow it to utilize even more biometric data to make a positive match. As this continues, it’s likely that biometric technology will largely displace many other means of access control. It is already being used by customs agencies to protect the nation itself, so the reliability of biometric security measures are well-established if one looks to be agencies utilizing it in practice as endorsements of its reliability.