WHAT if you could stroll through a building’s lobby to be identified and gain access?
And what if your bank would let you gaze at your smartphone to unlock a payment?
Both are possible using advanced biometric authentication technology that is now being tested and even rolled out to an increasing number of smartphones, tablet computers, laptops, and smartwatches.
And new research shows the transition from passwords, or “something you know,” to fingerprint, face, and eyeball scans, or “something you are,” could be complete within two years for phones, with other devices to follow in 2020.
But, as Apple readies to launch its first face-scanner this month, do security experts consider this technology more secure or just more convenient?
Biometric security has been creeping into everyday technology for years, slowly replacing passwords and lengthy PIN codes.
The technology is evolving, however, and becoming both more common and more advanced.
Dissatisfied with the security of a fingerprint lock, Samsung introduced an iris scanner with its Galaxy S8 smartphone that photographs the coloured parts of your eyes and identifies up to 200 features in each eyeball to authenticate your identity.
Galaxy S8 and Note 8 users can use this technology to unlock their phone and even to authenticate bank transfers or credit card payments.
Apple will also upgrade the biometric security in its top smartphone within a fortnight, introducing Face ID to the iPhone X as a replacement for its fingerprint scanner.
The facial recognition system uses a host of front-facing sensors, including a flood illuminator, dot projector, and infra-red camera, to project over 30,000 invisible points on to the user’s face and create a 3D model of their appearance.
It’s similar technology to that used in the Xbox Kinect, though Apple also uses a neural engine in the phone’s processor to determine whether the person looking at the phone is someone new or whether the user has just grown a beard, added spectacles, or changed hairstyles.
Apple worldwide marketing vice-president Phil Schiller says there is “no perfect system, not even biometric-wise” for locking phones, but the new face-scanning technology would be significantly more secure.
“The data for (the iPhone’s fingerprint scanner) Touch ID has been one in 50,000, meaning that the chance that a random person could use their fingerprint to unlock your iPhone has been one in 50,000 and it’s been great,” he says.
“What are the similar statistics for Face ID? One in a million.”
The spread of biometric security features is also expected to accelerate over the next three years.
Acuity Market Intelligence predicts all smartphones will feature some form of biometric technology by 2019 and, by 2020, it will also feature in all laptops, tablets, and smartwatches.
Facial recognition could spread to online services too, with Facebook revealing it was testing the technology to confirm user’s identities.
Biometric technology could involve more than just face or fingerprint scans in future, though.
Internet giant Google has experimented with mapping speech patterns to identify users, and the CSIRO has developed technology that identifies people by the way they walk.
The prototype technology, which requires users to wear a device backed with motion sensors, was tested on 20 subjects earlier this year with an accuracy of 95 per cent.
CSIRO Data 61 networks research group leader Professor Dali Kaafar says the unique authentication system is “convenient because as we walk around each day our gait can be sampled continuously” and it’s also “more secure than passwords because the way we talk is difficult to mimic”.
“Since (it) keeps authenticating the user continuously, it collects a significant amount of information about our movements, making it difficult to imitate or hack unlike guessing passwords or PIN codes,” he says.
DEVICES WITH BIOMETRIC SECURITY
Face scanners: Apple iPhone X, Microsoft Surface Pro, HP Spectre x2, Alienware 15.
Eye scanners: Samsung Galaxy S8, Samsung Galaxy Note 8.
Fingerprint scanners: Google Pixel 2, LG G3, Huawei P10 Plus, Sony Xperia XZ Premium.
Pulse security: Fitbit Ionic, Apple Watch.