An Introduction to Biometric Authentication Methods

An Introduction to Biometric Authentication Methods

Biometric authentication is a verification system that relies on unique biological characteristics of people to confirm their identity and enable secure access.
It is also used to identify individuals in groups that are under surveillance.

You may not have given this much thought. Your passport and driver’s license include information about you such as your height, weight, hair color and eye color. This is biometric information and can be used for authentication purposes – to verify that the person is who they say they are.

Some of this information such as the hair color, weight may change over time creating the need for more reliable biometric identifiers.

In this technology-driven world, most people have multiple devices, accounts and presence on several websites. Managing access to devices and sites while preventing identity theft and data loss are huge challenges. The concept of authentication therefore becomes central to security.

Fingerprints, retinal and iris scans produce unique data sets that don’t change over time making them more reliable biometric identifiers.


How is Biometric Data used?

Biometric data gathered is used to secure a wide range of electronic communications, including computer or smartphone access, enterprise security, online commerce, and banking. Biometric authentication systems compare the current biometric data capture with the stored data. If both samples match, authentication is confirmed and access is granted.

Biometric Authentication Methods

There are various biometric authentication methods suitable for different situations. A particular biometric authentication method maybe selected because:

  • It is less invasive
  • It can be carried out without a person’s knowledge
  • Its data is difficult to duplicate, making it fool-proof

Let’s go over some of these methods.

Face Recognition

Face recognition is one of the most flexible biometric authentication methods. The best thing about this method is that it works even when the person is unaware of being scanned.

Face recognition systems work with numeric codes called face prints, identifying 80 nodal points on the face. Features common to everyone’s face such as the distance between the eyes, width of the nose, position of cheekbones, jaw line, chin etc. are analysed. The values obtained are combined in a single code that uniquely identifies the person.


Fingerprint Identification

Our fingerprints remain the same throughout our lives making them a reliable identifier. Further, fingerprint comparisons done over a period of 100 years show that no two individuals have had the same fingerprints.

Fingerprint identification involves comparing the pattern of ridges and furrows on a person’s fingertips and their ridge characteristics with those in the database.

IPads, iPhones have fingerprint scanners to allow access only to registered users.

Hand Geometry

This biometric authentication method uses devices that measure the length and angles of individual fingers. It is used in industrial environments that don’t have clean conditions. It is not an invasive test and forms a very small dataset.

Iris scan

This scan is used to identify people based on unique patterns within the ring- shaped region surrounding the pupil of the eye. Like the retina scan, the iris scan also provides unique biometric data that is difficult to replicate and remains unchanged over a person’s lifetime. The iris scan biometric data can be encoded so that it can be carried around securely in barcode format.


Retina Scan

This scan produces an image of the blood vessel pattern in the light-sensitive surface lining a person’s inner eye. A retina scan cannot be replicated as the pattern of blood vessels at the back of the eye is unique and remains unchanged over a person’s lifetime.

This biometric authentication method is standard in military and government installations.

Voice Analysis

Voice identification systems use characteristics created by the shape of the speaker’s mouth and throat as biometric data. Like face recognition, voice biometrics also enable authentication of identity without the person’s knowledge.

Many cars in the UK use voice recognition for unlocking the vehicle and when using Bluetooth or entertainment systems.


A signature as an example of biometric data is easy to get and is not physically intrusive. Although they are used sometimes, digitized signatures usually have insufficient resolution to ensure authentication.

There was a time when biometric security checks featured mostly in sci-fi and action films. They are now very common and are likely to be used more and more in the coming years.

– Rashi Kapur :


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