Biometrics: What, Where and Why

Biometrics are slowly gaining acceptance. Here are the most common forms and uses of biometrics and forces shaping the market

Biometrics encompasses a variety of methods for ensuring identity based on physical or behavioral traits. Conventional identifying traits include fingerprints, face topology, iris structure, hand geometry, vein structure, voice, signature and keystroke recognition. Emerging technologies analyze characteristics such as gait, odor, and ear shape. Rather than being used in isolation, biometrics systems are increasingly becoming multimodal, an approach that serves both to increase security and overcome failure-to-enroll problems.

In order for the systems to work, users first have to be enrolled and their information must be recorded in a database. From there, they use either a verification or identification approach. With verification, the system confirms that a person is who he claims to be, via a one-to-one matching model. Identification, on the other hand, is more complex. It uses a one-to-N approach, matching the person's biometric data to a list of users in the database.

Biometrics offers several advantages over identification cards and passwords or PINs, namely the requirement that the person being identified is physically present and the elimination of the need to remember codes or tokens. Dan Miller, senior analyst and founder of Opus Research in San Francisco, distills the benefits of biometrics: Other systems rely on something you know or have, whereas biometrics works off something you are.

Key Applications of Biometrics

There are several applications for which biometrics is useful, according to Maxine Most, principal at Acuity Market Intelligence in Louisville, Colo., and she projects that they'll grow at varied rates between 2009 and 2017:

* Physical Access: Facility and secure-area access, time-and-attendance monitoring. Growth: Flat, starting at 13 percent of total market revenues and ending at 14 percent.

* Logical Access: PC, networks, mobile devices, kiosks, accounts. Growth: From 21 percent to 31 percent of total market revenues.

* Identity Services: Background checks, enrollment, credentialing, document issuance. Growth: Decline from 65 percent to 47 percent of total market revenues.

* Surveillance and Monitoring: Time and attendance, watchlists. Growth: From less than 1 percent to nearly 8 percent of total market revenue.

Biometric Market Drivers

In the public sector, worldwide government mandates for integrated border management systems are driving adoption of biometrics for electronic identification programs, Most says. In the commercial market, she says, the main drivers will be the evolution of mobile phones equipped with near-field communications, which enable information sharing, service initiation and payment and ticketing capabilities.

"This will be a problem crying out for biometrics," she says, "not only to lock the devices, but also to authenticate high-risk or high-value transactions." Tens of millions of mobile devices are already shipping with embedded biometrics, she points out. Similarly, another driver may be the healthcare industry, which may look to biometrically protect electronic health records, she says.

According to a recent survey by Unisys Corp., rampant growth of identity theft and new regulations mandating increased protect of personal identification information are driving acceptance of biometrics.

Market Overview

Biometrics have experienced setbacks over the years, in the form of inadequately planned deployments, inherent limitations of the technology and fears about violations of privacy and civil liberties, Most says. But she sees overall momentum in this market, predicting global revenues for biometrics core technology will reach nearly $11 billion annually by 2017, a compound annual growth rate of 19.69 percent.

This will be due in part to significant transformations over the next 10 years, she says, which will include improved ease of use, accuracy and performance; lower prices and increased reliability of capture devices; and the embedding of capture devices in everything from PDAs, PCs, point-of-sale terminals and ATMs to vehicles, security gates and home appliances.


Most says that the biometrics industry has historically been dominated by a highly fragmented core of vendors producing the various technologies biometrics requires: sensors; pattern recognition and matching algorithms; integrated devices (sensors plus algorithms); and platform software.

Consolidation is on the rise, however, as exemplified by the buying spree of L-1 Identity Solutions, which snapped up finger scanning software vendor Identix and face recognition software vendor Viisage Systems (which had previously bought iris recognition application vendor Iridian).

Until recently, the competitive focus has been limited to accuracy and performance, Most says. However, maturing business models will evolve from product- to service-based offerings, she says.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags biometricsauthentication

More about IdentixLogicalUnisys Australia

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Mary Brandel

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts