Security and Privacy Risks of Biometric Authentication

Sixty-two percent of businesses in the U.S. and Europe currently use biometric identifiers for authentication, and another 24% expect to implement biometrics within the next two years. Fingerprint scanning, used by 57% of businesses, is the most popular identifier, but other methods like facial recognition are also utilized.

biometric authentication

Biometrics have traditionally been thought of as safer than other authentication methods, leading many businesses and organizations to move away from traditional options like passwords or adopt biometrics as a component of multi-factor authentication (MFA) protocols. However, treating biometric authentication as a cure-all for security woes poses significant concerns. Biometrics aren’t immune to attack and theft, and businesses seeking to incorporate this form of access control into their security strategies must consider the potential security and privacy risks of biometric authentication.

Compromised Enrollment

Accurate collection of biometric data is essential for its security as a method of authentication. From a practical standpoint, incorrectly capturing data can result in access problems down the line. If the original template is incomplete or conditions during use differ significantly from the conditions under which biometrics are collected, legitimate users may find themselves unable to access systems and resources.

The cybersecurity risk comes when hackers either commit fraud at the time of data collection or replace collected data with their own at a later time. This creates a scenario in which hackers can override the security of biometrics to access accounts with less risk of detection.

Storage Risks

The act of storing biometric data puts it at risk, and although security protocols offer some level of protection, the thousands of data breaches occurring in the first half of 2019 clearly show many businesses and organizations don’t have strong enough security place. Of the 3,813 incidents reported during this time, 149 were the result of “misconfigured databases and services.” Over 3.2 billion records were exposed in these breaches alone.

For hackers, finding an unsecured database is somewhat like being a kid in a candy store. If the database happens to be a central storage point for biometric identifiers, the results for users can be devastating. Sixty-three percent of IT professionals agree more transparency about how vendors collect biometric data is necessary so that users can be informed about the potential risks.

Privacy Problems

Biometrics collected for the purpose of authentication should, in theory, only be used to identify and verify the logins of legitimate users within a network. However, neither collection nor storage of biometrics is yet subject to strict regulation outside of the consent required by the GDPR, and not all organizations collecting such data are scrupulous in their actions.

Misuse of biometrics may include the unauthorized or unlawful sharing of information between third parties for use in marketing strategies or to determine specific personal details about individuals. This is especially concerning in the area of DNA profiles, which can reveal a significant amount of private information. Compromised DNA data could theoretically be used in a discriminatory manner unbeknownst to its owner.

Without strong regulations in place, there’s little to stop these troubling exploitations of biometric data, and users may not have legal recourse if they discover their information has been misused.

Potential Fixes for Security Concerns

What can businesses do to protect biometric data? One solution already being implemented is to store information on user-controlled devices. When users want to log into a system, they present their credentials through an app on a smartphone or tablet, which then authenticates the login and grants access. However, the potential for device theft or loss continues to represent a major flaw in this method.

Cancellable biometrics may offer an alternative and address concerns associated with the permanence of biometric data. In this method, identifiers are altered using complex mathematics into forms hackers can’t reverse. Should information become compromised during a breach, the altered biometric templates can be deleted and replaced. The algorithms can transform users’ biometrics in different ways to prevent the irreversible compromise of unique traits.

Despite an increased reliance on biometrics in business and personal use cases, 90% of business owners doubt the efficacy of these authenticators as a standalone security measure. Biometrics aren’t likely to push passwords into obsolescence any time soon, either. Only 23% of IT professionals say they think biometrics will completely replace passwords for authentication in the next two or three years, which means businesses must still seek robust security solutions for the near future.

Learn About Identity and Access Management Certification Path

No single authentication method can serve as a magic bullet to solve all security problems. As biometrics mature and authentication protocols become more sophisticated, hackers’ techniques are likely to continue to evolve in response. Businesses and organizations must look beyond the promise of a one-size-fits-all solution and create customized security plans incorporating strong authentication protocols and monitoring to ensure the highest level of protection for critical systems and data.