YES FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
NO FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
WE NEED a better way to identify ourselves on the internet—something that is fast,
convenient and secure. We use passwords, but they aren’t secure and often are not
convenient. You have to remember a password, and most people use some trick to
help remember; this also makes them easy to guess. The most commonly used passwords are “password” and “12345.” It doesn’t take a criminal mastermind to figure
How we use the internet has changed, and this change offers a way out of the
password trap. Most people now connect to the internet using a smartphone or tablet.
The average smartphone is more powerful than the “supercomputers” used to design
nuclear weapons in the Cold War. Most smartphones have all kinds of sensors, for
motion, location, voice, facial recognition, even touch. This combination of smartphone and sensor gives us a new way to identify ourselves online, using methods
For the consumer, biometrics is not a complex operation. Biometrics measure
some personal feature—your voice, your eyes, how you move your hand—and use
that to identify you. People are unique, down to the way they type on a phone, and
some unique identifying feature—eyes, face, fingerprint, voice—can be converted by
the smartphone into a unique code and then used to identify the individual to a
network, website or device. Some phones already offer this, with the built-in camera
“recognizing” a face and using the image to unlock the device.
People forget their password all the time, but they are much less likely to forget
their phone; since you control your phone, the risks to privacy are manageable. Used
with other techniques, like two-factor authentication (a technique that banks have
adopted), biometrics can create the complexity that makes life harder for cybercrim-inals. Authentication of identity on the internet has been a problem from the start.
Until now, there has been no real solution for identifying oneself other than a password. The combination of biometric identifiers and mobile devices loaded with sensors gives us a way to change this. C
THERE ARE many reasons consumers should be reluctant to rely on biometric scans
of their fingerprints or facial contours to authenticate their identities and keep banking and other accounts secure.
Passwords created by consumers are often quite personal. But passwords can be
replaced. Imagine creating a treasure trove of your unique biometric information and
putting it out there for hackers to steal.
After all, “hacking the unhackable” represents a badge of honor among those
who use technology to hijack information. Funded and supported by organized
crime, hackers who gained access to consumers’ biometric information could be virtually unstoppable and could potentially render any safeguards useless.
There are also questions concerning the reliability of the technology. For example,
fingerprints might not be as unique as the FBI told us back in the 1930s. This is further
complicated by the way the print is taken and stored. And, people still have to verify
the print match. There are also issues around facial recognition software: False positives and retinal scans are nowhere close to the technology we see in the movies. It just
isn’t there yet. So if the technology fails, what good is using it as a safeguard?
Now let’s imagine the technology did work. This raises Fourth Amendment
issues regarding unreasonable search and seizure. If law enforcement gets a legal warrant to seize a bank account, does that override the account holder’s right to privacy?
There are many legitimate concerns about the government having access to personal
bank accounts. But there are also possible scenarios where there may be a legitimate
national security need (such as terrorist attack) to review and perhaps even seize
someone’s account. In such a case, if the technology is that good and secure, no one
is ever getting into that account, regardless of having a court order.
At this time, better security depends on consumers using better passwords that
are harder to crack. Banks and other organizations that are serious about protecting
their customers would do well to increase awareness and to invest in better software
that generates more complex passwords. C
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Should ;nancial institutions use biometrics to
Lewis is a senior
vice president and
at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies
Peter R. Stevenson is a professor
of sociology for
criminology department at Keene
Should daylight saving time
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