biometric authentication

Biometric authentication is a security process that relies on the unique biological characteristics of an individual to verify that he is who is says he is. Biometric authentication systems compare a biometric data capture to stored, confirmed authentic data in a database. If both samples of the biometric data match, authentication is confirmed. Typically, biometric authentication is used to manage access to physical and digital resources such as buildings, rooms and computing devices.

Once seen mostly in spy movies (where it might be used to protect access to a top-secret military lab, for example), biometric authentication is becoming relatively commonplace. In addition to the security provided by hard-to-fake individual biological traits, the acceptance of biometric verification has also been driven by convenience: One can’t easily forget or lose ones biometrics.  The oldest known use of biometric verification is fingerprinting. Thumbprints made on clay seals were used as a means of unique identification as far back as ancient China. Modern biometric verification has become almost instantaneous, and is increasingly accurate with the advent of computerized databases and the digitization of analog data.

Types of biometric authentication technologies:
Retina scans produce an image of the blood vessel pattern in the light-sensitive surface lining the individual's inner eye. 

Iris recognition is used to identify individuals based on unique patterns within the ring-shaped region surrounding the pupil of the eye. 

Fingerscanning, the digital version of the ink-and-paper fingerprinting process, works with details in the pattern of raised areas and branches in a human finger image.

Finger vein ID is based on the unique vascular pattern in an individual's finger. 

Facial recognition systems work with numeric codes called faceprints, which identify 80 nodal points on a human face.

Voice identification systems rely on characteristics created by the shape of the speaker's mouth and throat, rather than more variable conditions.

Watch a video introduction to biometric technologies for authentication:

This was last updated in December 2014

Continue Reading About biometric authentication

Dig Deeper on Web authentication and access control