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How to store and protect captured data on the back end of a biometric application

In this Ask the Expert Q&A, our identity and access management guru discussses how to store and protect biometric data that is placed on database servers.

When developing a biometric application based on client-server technology, which back end is preferable to store the captured data?
All biometric data, when captured by biometric devices, starts out as analog data. Whether it comes from a fingerprint reader, a facial recognition camera or an iris scanner, for example, the data is collected in a form that can't be read by a computer system. In other words, it must be converted into a digital form -- meaning digitized -- that can be read and digested by a back end system.

The issue then isn't the back end system. It's the security of the back end platform that you choose. The choice...

of platform should be driven by the business and technical requirements of your application, nothing more. The security of the back end can and should be baked-in simultaneously with the development of the application. Choose your back end, then make it secure, not the other way around.

Again, biometric data is no different than any other data moving across the wire to your back end. That means it should be protected from the same vulnerabilities as the data moving through your network. It should be protected from theft and replay. If captured, biometric data can be replayed to impersonate the legitimate user and gain unauthorized access into the system. That makes it easy for the attacker, who doesn't need to have the right fingerprint, face or iris pattern. All they need is the digitized biometric data.

Protect biometric data both en route to the back end and on the database where it's stored. At the same time, harden the database servers storing such data as you would any other server:

  • Turn off any unnecessary services on the database servers.
  • Restrict access to the servers, particularly administrative access through appropriate assignment of groups and roles.
  • Encrypt sensitive data, including biometric data, when in transit to or from the back end servers.

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  • This was last published in November 2005

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