Is It Time to Replace Passwords with Biometrics?


It hardly needs to be stated that the security of online accounts and data is of paramount importance, especially in an era where we rely upon digital transactions so much. Traditional username and password authentication, which has been the norm for decades, is facing increasing challenges due to its inherent vulnerabilities. With cyber threats constantly evolving and becoming ever more sophisticated, it’s evident that a more robust (and user-friendly) authentication method is needed. 

Enter facial matching biometrics, a cutting-edge technology that offers a promising alternative to traditional logins. In the  wake of substantial data breaches across Australia in the past 12 months, the government’s National Strategy for Identity Resilience has gone as far as to recommend in Principle 5 that biometrics are used to secure website login rather than username and passwords.

In this blog, we will explore why the Australian government reached this decision—and why facial matching biometrics are superior to usernames and passwords for website logins.

The trouble with traditional authentication

Before diving into the advantages of facial matching biometrics, let’s take some time and make sure we understand the shortcomings of traditional username and password authentication.

Password vulnerabilities: One of the glaring issues with passwords is their vulnerability. Passwords are often too simple, easily guessed, or reused across multiple accounts, making them susceptible to hacking. Cybercriminals employ various techniques to crack passwords, including brute force attacks, dictionary attacks, and rainbow tables.

Password reuse and credential stuffing: The widespread practice of people reusing passwords across multiple sites compounds the security risk. When one website’s security is compromised, attackers often gain access to a trove of login credentials. This practice, known as credential stuffing, allows cybercriminals to access other accounts where the same username and password combination is used.

Password management challenges: As online services proliferate, users must manage an ever-increasing number of passwords, leading to password fatigue—which often results in poor security practices like writing down passwords or using easily guessable variations. The effort required to remember and manage multiple passwords can be burdensome. Password managers solve many of these problems, but their penetration levels remain relatively low as a percentage of global internet users.

Here come facial biometrics

Facial matching biometrics, on the other hand, represent a modern approach to authentication. This technology analyzes facial characteristics such as the distance between the eyes, the shape of the nose, and the contours of the face to create a unique biometric template. 

When it’s time to authenticate an individual, the facial recognition tech works by capturing an image of the user’s face, extracting facial features, and comparing them to the stored template. Modern face matching algorithms use strings of numbers and letters to represent the facial template, meaning that even if the provider is hacked, there is no way to re-constitute the facial image from the stored string. 

Recent developments, including the use of generative AI to produce diverse facial data sets, has resulted in Zero Bias AI™ face recognition technology. Generative AI allows face recognition to be built without any real user data at all, totally eliminating concerns about technology companies using the biometrics of actual people for training.

Real-world applications: a quick look

Facial matching biometrics have found applications in various industries, from unlocking mobile devices and securing financial transactions to providing access to physical and digital spaces. The technology has been particularly popular in mobile devices, where users can unlock their phones with a simple glance.

Users have quickly embraced the use of facial recognition on their mobile devices—it’s fast, efficient, and very easy to use. Furthermore, the large number of flight passengers more than happy to use biometrics at the border demonstrates the trust and faith users have in using facial recognition. 

Why the face is favorable

Now that we’ve explored the fundamentals of facial matching biometrics and the limitations of traditional authentication methods, let’s take a look at why facial recognition is the superior choice for website logins.

Biometric uniqueness and reliability: One of the key advantages of facial matching biometrics is the uniqueness and reliability of facial features. Unlike passwords, which can be shared or stolen, an individual’s facial characteristics are inherently unique. This uniqueness provides a high level of security; it’s exceedingly difficult for unauthorized users to replicate someone else’s face accurately and at the same time pass a decent liveness test.

Reduced vulnerability to hacking and fraud: Facial recognition technology significantly reduces the risk of hacking and fraud. Unlike passwords that can be stolen, guessed, or phished, an attacker would need to physically obtain a high-quality image of a user’s face to bypass facial recognition and then somehow defeat the liveness detection tests—a substantially more challenging task.

The role of liveness detection: Liveness detection, a feature often incorporated into facial recognition systems, further enhances security. It verifies that the detected face is a live, real-time image and not a static photograph or video. This prevents spoofing attempts and ensures that only genuine users are granted access.

Convenience and frictionless authentication: Facial matching biometrics offer unparalleled convenience. Users can log in with a simple glance, eliminating the need to remember and enter complex passwords. This frictionless authentication process enhances the user experience, making online interactions smoother and more efficient.

Accessible and inclusive authentication: Facial biometric technology is inherently accessible, catering to individuals with disabilities. Many facial recognition systems are designed to accommodate users with various abilities, including those who may have difficulty typing or remembering passwords. Additionally, Zero Bias AI™ ensures the technology works for all ages, genders, and skin tones. 

Scalability and cost efficiency: Implementing a facial matching solution can significantly reduce support costs associated with password-related issues. Forgotten passwords, password resets, and account lockouts are common support requests that can be mitigated by adopting facial matching biometrics.

A simpler onboarding process: The onboarding process for users becomes more efficient with facial recognition. New users can be quickly and securely authenticated, leading to a smoother and more user-friendly registration experience.

To summarize, facial matching biometrics are highly scalable and can accommodate large user bases without compromising security. This scalability makes them ideal for organizations and platforms with millions of users.

Mind the privacy and ethical issues 

While facial matching biometrics offer numerous benefits, they also raise important privacy and ethical considerations. The collection and storage of facial biometric data must be handled with care to protect user privacy. Strict data protection measures, including encryption and secure storage, are essential to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive biometric information. Standards exist to generate trust in the security procedures such as ISO 27001 and SOC2 Type 2. 

Facial recognition systems have also faced criticism for potential biases, as they may perform less accurately on certain demographic groups. Addressing these biases and ensuring fairness in facial recognition technology is crucial to avoid discrimination.

In response to these concerns, governments and regulatory bodies around the world are developing frameworks and guidelines to regulate the use of facial recognition technology. Organizations must adhere to these regulations and implement best practices to ensure responsible and ethical use.

Into the biometric beyond

In a world where cybersecurity threats continue to advance, the need for secure, reliable authentication methods is clear—with facial matching biometrics representing a significant leap forward in online security and user experience. As we’ve explored in this blog, the advantages of facial recognition technology over traditional username and password authentication are compelling. Enhanced security, improved user experience, scalability, and cost efficiency make facial matching biometrics a secure and convenient choice for website logins.

As the global digital economy moves forward, facial matching biometrics are poised to play a crucial role in shaping the future of online authentication. Embracing this technology means not only enhancing security, but also providing users with a more seamless and enjoyable online experience.

About the post:
Images are generative AI-created. Prompt: Kaleidoscopic Asian model’s face, vivid colors, surreal. Tool: Midjourney.. Tool: Midjourney.

About the author:
Peter Violaris is Global DPO and Head of Legal EMEA for IDVerse. Peter is a commercial technology lawyer with a particular focus on biometrics, privacy, and AI learning. Peter has been in the identity space for 6 years and before that worked for London law firms.

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