Has biometrics hit the tipping point?

Mark Cohn of Unisys says recent research indicates 'Yes'

Unisys today announced the release of data from its biannual Unisys Security Index. One niche part of this year’s research was on the topic of consumer perception and comfort with biometrics for authentication and identification. The chief finding, according to Mark Cohn, vice president of enterprise security at Unisys, is that consumers are more comfortable than ever with using biometric technologies to protect their identity and aid them in actions like authentication and access.

“One trend that is quite striking is about biometric acceptance,” said Cohn. “A couple of years ago, when we did a comparable survey, we found that people indicated that facial and voice recognition were the technologies they preferred for identity protection. What we found this year was that voice verification is not rated as the top 1 or 2. There seems to be recognition that fingerprint identification is now more acceptable.”

In fact, the Unisys research indicates that fingerprint recognition is almost as accepted as PIN and password authentication, two methods that have greater than 70 percent preference as the primary method of authentication. And in general, biometrics are more accepted than ever, with greater than 70 percent of survey respondents indicating that they would trust banks and government requests for using biometrics to verify identity.

“Fingerprint technology is well respected,” explained Cohn, “Not just for one-to-many [as in a criminal identification system], but also one-to-one matching [such as for bank login]. They know that if it’s been able to be used for law enforcement successfully, then it must be good.”

What the survey also found is that age of the consumer is not a barrier to adoption. The research found that 76 percent of people age 35-49 and 76 percent of people ages 50-64 were comfortable with the use of fingerprint recognition for bank identity authentication. Those groups, noted Cohn, were the highest in terms of acceptance. The research also found that person with higher income levels were more comfortable with fingerprint biometric authentication. Of persons earning $50,000 or more a year, 79 percent were OK with fingerprint authentication.

“Higher age groups and higher income had more comfort with fingerprint scanning, and that was a bit of a surprise,” Cohn said. “It could be argued they have more to lose financially. The other thing is that they could have had their identity stolen in the past.”

Asked whether it looks like biometrics has reached a turning point that would allow for mass adoption, Cohn says the numbers from the research speak for themselves and indicate that many areas of the world have reached that point.

“We see a turning point where biometrics is no longer being viewed as a negative thing, but would be consider a positive thing to protect their identity,” Cohn said.

Cohn’s thoughts match closely with recent research from ABI Research, which also found growing adoption for biometrics. In November ABI Research announced that it expected, “The combined growth in both government, law enforcement and private sectors for biometrics will drive spending on biometrics systems over the next five years up to $7.3 billion by 2013, up from around $3 billion in 2008.”

But if the world is becoming so comfortable with biometrics, why is adoption lagging behind?

Cohn thinks there is one reason that adoption has been slow and he says it has to do with system architectures and costs. There are two models, he explained of biometric systems. The first model is that you create individual systems for particular purposes, and you have to deal with the costs individually. The other option, says Cohn, is that you create a multi-purpose system where costs can be shared.

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