Don't overdo biometrics, expert warns

Biometric data such as fingerprint scans is being collected too widely and too casually

Biometric data such as fingerprint scans is being collected too widely and too casually, according to security company Protegrity USA.

"Today, many of the major banks are using biometrics to log into your accounts on your mobile devices," said Protegrity CEO Suni Munshani.

As biometric access replaces passwords it adds convenience for users. But many companies are deploying the technology too casually, he said.

"Biometrics should be used in a far more cautious manner," he said.

According to Gartner, 40 percent of smartphones will have biometric sensors by 2016.

Meanwhile, FireEye researchers Tao Wei and Yulong Zhang demonstrated the ability to harvest fingerprints on a large scale from some mobile devices at the Black Hat conference this summer.

"Not all the vendors store the fingerprints securely," wrote Wei and Zhang in their report. "While some vendors claimed that they store users' fingerprints encrypted in a system partition, they put users’ fingerprints in plaintext and in a world-readable place by mistake."

FireEye researchers Tao Wei and Yulong Zhang

For example, HTC One Max stored fingerprints in a readable image file that any unprivileged process or app could access.

If the biometric scans are also stored elsewhere, the risks multiply.

And the dangers are not just theoretical. Late last month, the Office of Personnel Management admitted that 5.6 million fingerprints had been stolen from its servers -- not just 1.1 million as had been reported over the summer.

Some of these fingerprints belonged to federal employees with secret clearances.

Meanwhile, if a password is stolen, it is relatively simple to reset it with a different one. It is currently not practical, however, to provide users with new fingerprints, voices, or eyeballs.

That puts biometrics in the same category of data as other permanent personal identifiers, such as Social Security numbers. Since they can retain their value for years -- and will only become more valuable as the use of biometrics expands -- they are likely to become prime targets for hackers.

According to Munshani, a better use of biometrics is to save it for second-level controls.

"The data is unique, one-off, and must not be used in the ways that passwords are used for access management," he said. "It should be used for authorization instead of authentication."

For example, biometrics can be used to confirm password or address changes, or payments to new vendors, or to allow access to particularly sensitive corporate systems.

"Biometric data needs to have a much higher level of urgency associated with it," he said. "There is no doubt in my mind about it."

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags cyber security

More about BiometricsCSOFireEyeGartnerHTC

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Maria Korolov

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 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

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place