Fingerprint Biometrics: Understanding Biometric Authentication

Ronan Mahony

Introduction

Fingerprint biometrics verify user identities when logging into a system by using the unique patterns of whirls and loops that distinguish a person’s fingerprints. As a biometric authentication method, fingerprint recognition depends on something inherent to who that person is; in this case their unique fingerprints.

Mitigating risks of account compromise in the modern cyber threat landscape calls for phishing-resistant forms of multi-factor authentication. Fingerprint recognition meets the need for stronger authentication in a way that’s secure for your business while being both convenient and fast for employees and other system users. 

This article describes how fingerprint biometrics works, the advantages and limitations of this type of authentication, implementation tips, best practices in different industries, and some use cases.

How Fingerprint Biometrics Works

A proper understanding of fingerprint biometrics comes from analyzing the details of fingerprint recognition technology. Here is a brief general overview of how the process works:

  1. Capturing a Fingerprint: The first step in fingerprint biometrics is capturing a digital image of each of the ridges and valleys that make up a user’s fingerprints. Sensors perform the initial fingerprint acquisition, and you can opt for devices that capture fingerprints using optical, capacitive, ultrasonic, or thermal sensors. 
  2. Extraction: After capturing a fingerprint, the system identifies and maps out various minutiae points. These are specific points where the ridge lines of a user’s print end or split. The pattern, type, distance, and angles between these points are what make every fingerprint unique.
  3. Creating a Template: The fingerprint biometrics system you use then converts the extracted information into a mathematical representation called a template. This template is a binary code or a set of numbers derived from the original image rather than being a direct image (this representation protects the privacy of your users). 
  4. Storage: The fingerprint template is stored either locally (on the device) or in a central database, depending on the system and application. For example, smartphones generally store the template locally, while a company IT system might store it in a centralized database. Encryption is important here so that even if the database gets breached, an external actor cannot reverse-engineer someone’s fingerprint using the template. 
  5. Matching: Each time your users log in to an app and try to verify their identities, the system captures a new fingerprint scan and processes it to form a template. This new template is then compared with the stored template to see if there is a match.
  6. Decision: If the fingerprint templates match above a certain threshold that indicates a high degree of confidence, the system authenticates that user and grants access to the relevant app or service.

Advantages of Fingerprint Biometrics

The three main advantages of fingerprint biometrics are enhanced security, speed of authentication, and user convenience. Let’s dive slightly deeper into these advantages. 

Enhanced Security

For several years now, industry bodies and government agencies have called for companies and organizations to use multi-factor authentication (MFA) for securing user accounts against compromise. However, recent attacks like push bombing and SIM swapping have prompted bodies like CISA to recommend phishing-resistant forms of MFA.

Fingerprint biometrics meets this need for enhanced security because fingerprints are compatible with modern, phishing-resistant authentication such as FIDO. Furthermore, since fingerprint authentication requires the physical presence of the user, remote hacks can’t compromise accounts without the user’s immediate knowledge.

Even identical twins don’t have the same fingerprints, which makes fingerprint biometrics an intrinsically highly personalized, secure form of authentication. 

Speed of Authentication

The speed of simply placing a finger on a scanner, which is typically faster than even weak passwords, reduces the likelihood of your users bypassing security measures.

User Convenience

Not only is fingerprint recognition fast, but it’s also non-intrusive and convenient. People don’t need to remember passwords or carry particular tokens/devices around with them. The preference for fingerprint authentication trickles down to the consumer level. A recent report from FIDO Alliance found that 29 percent of consumers prefer signing into websites or apps with biometrics (fingerprints or face scans) versus 19 percent who want to enter passwords manually. 

SWOT Analysis

With the advantages of fingerprint biometrics covered, let’s jump into the strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats associated with using fingerprint recognition systems in your IT environment.

Strengths and Opportunities

StrengthsOpportunities
Unique and Non-Transferable IdentificationMobile Device Integration
– Each person has distinct and individual fingerprints, enhancing security.– Integration of fingerprint recognition in smartphones and tablets for secure unlocking.
– Difficult for unauthorized individuals to replicate or share fingerprints.– Opportunities for secure mobile payments and app access.
Convenient AuthenticationMFA Integration
– Quick verification process, reducing authentication time.– Combining fingerprint biometrics with other authentication methods for enhanced security.
– Eliminates the need to remember and manage complex passwords.– Strengthening overall security by using fingerprint recognition as part of a multifactor authentication strategy.
Proven and Widely Adopted TechnologyEnhanced Security for Critical Applications
– Fingerprint biometrics are extensively used and trusted in various industries.– Implementing fingerprint recognition for access to sensitive areas and high-security environments.
– Established track record of accuracy and reliability.– Enhancing identity verification for critical applications like financial services and government institutions.

Weaknesses and Threats

WeaknessesThreats
Sensitivity to Environmental FactorsSpoofing and Presentation Attacks
– Fingerprint recognition is affected by dirt, moisture, and temperature changes.– Potential for attackers to create fake fingerprints or use replicas for unauthorized access.
– Difficulties in scanning worn or damaged fingerprints.– Advanced spoofing techniques using artificial materials or latent fingerprints.
Inclusivity and AccessibilityPrivacy and Data Security
– Challenges in enrolling individuals with certain skin conditions or physical disabilities.– Difficulty of storing and protecting sensitive biometric data from breaches and unauthorized access.
– Age-related changes affecting fingerprint patterns.– Addressing concerns about potential misuse of biometric data.
User CooperationAdoption and User Acceptance
– Requires user cooperation to place their finger correctly on the scanner.– Resistance from users who may be reluctant to adopt biometric technology.
– Variability in fingerprint quality due to user positioning.– Cultural or religious concerns related to the use of biometrics.

Implementing Fingerprint Biometrics

Successfully implementing fingerprint biometrics in your IT environment calls for careful planning and consideration. Let’s review three crucial factors that you should think about before deploying fingerprint biometrics at your enterprise. 

Integration with Existing Systems

It’s essential to assess the compatibility of any fingerprint biometric system with your existing infrastructure. This assessment should involve software, hardware, data flows, secure communications, and network security considerations. 

If an important and widely-used legacy application can’t directly integrate with the fingerprint authentication system, you may need your development team to build middleware to act as a bridge between the two.

Lastly, you also need to consider how to train employees and other users to adapt to the new fingerprint authentication method and ensure a smooth transition from the old way of doing things. 

Scalability

The larger the scale of deployment, the trickier fingerprint recognition is to implement. Think about the need for robust databases, efficient searching algorithms, and powerful hardware infrastructure as the number of users you want to authenticate grows. 

Consider also whether you want distributed or centralized authentication. This decision usually comes down to the nature of the particular app or service. 

With large-scale deployments, it’s also crucial to have backup systems and redundancy to ensure continued operation even if one part of the system fails.

Adherence to Data Privacy Regulations

Failing to comply with data privacy regulations by inadequately securing fingerprint scans and preserving user privacy can carry severe financial penalties. For example, GDPR classifies biometric data as “special category data”, with fines of up to €20 million or 4% of annual global turnover for non-compliance. 

Some vital compliance considerations include only collecting fingerprint data necessary for the intended purpose, avoiding the storage of direct fingerprint images, encrypting biometric data in transit and at rest, and obtaining explicit consent before collecting and using fingerprint data.

Use Cases of Fingerprint Biometrics

fingerprint authentication01

If you have been reading up until now, you should be starting to understand the ins and outs of fingerprint biometrics. With that, let’s wrap things up by diving into some real world examples and best practices of fingerprint biometrics.

Mobile Devices: Unlocking Smartphones and Tablets Securely

Fingerprint authentication provides a quick and secure way for people to access their devices without the need to remember passwords or patterns. Using fingerprint recognition is also a better way to ensure that only the legitimate owner can unlock their own device.

If your company permits employees to remotely access resources from mobile or tablet devices via a BYOD policy, asking them to set up fingerprint authentication (if their device supports it) is an effective way of making remote access more secure. With sensitive company data potentially stored or accessible from personal devices, it’s imperative that only authorized users can access it. Fingerprint authentication on user devices acts as a robust frontline defense for your business without requiring any infrastructural tweaks or investments. 

Access Control: Controlling Physical Entry to Secure Areas

While a lot of attention in the cyber crime world focuses on digital cyber attacks, physical methods of accessing sensitive locations and resources are not obsolete. Some companies and locations require traditional access cards, but they come with the hassle of being prone to loss or theft. 

Fingerprints can’t be lost or stolen as they are inherent to the individual. While you might not feel it necessary to secure access to your company’s office with fingerprint biometrics, it’s definitely worth considering for data centers or rooms housing servers containing sensitive data. 

Financial Services: Authorizing Transactions and Account Access

The enhanced security from fingerprint recognition systems is particularly useful for financial services like mobile banking apps. The most recent statistics show that 43.5 percent of US households use mobile banking, which makes these apps and the devices they’re installed on attractive targets for money-focused threat actors. 

Cybercriminals use banking trojans to steal one-time passwords sent to mobile devices. In 2022 alone, researchers uncovered 200,000 new banking trojans. Fingerprint biometrics help overcome this security weakness by removing reliance on one-time passwords as a category of evidence for verifying users, by instead relying on fingerprints that are immune to the impact of such trojans. 

Lastly, mobile wallets and payment apps can leverage fingerprint biometrics to authorize transactions. This is faster and more secure than entering a PIN. 

Best Practices for Fingerprint Biometrics 

Healthcare Best Practices 

The healthcare industry is both a critical and sensitive area where the use of fingerprint biometrics offers significant benefits. Due to the highly sensitive nature of healthcare data, it’s essential to follow best practices in the areas of compliance, access control, and user education. 

HIPAA Compliance

  • Always obtain informed consent from patients before collecting biometric data with clear explanations of how you’ll use and store their data.
  • As with any other type of all other personal health information (PHI), ensure you encrypt patient fingerprint data when sending it over a network and when stored.
  • Have a defined protocol in place for notifying authorities and affected individuals in case of any breach involving biometric data.

Secure Access Control

  • Combining fingerprint recognition with another form of authentication (like a PIN or smart card) enhances security when accessing patient records.
  • Use automatic system logouts after periods of inactivity, and prompt all healthcare professionals to re-authenticate using their fingerprints.
  • Implement role-based access controls so that professionals can only access records relevant to their roles. For example, a nurse should have different access levels than a doctor or an admin.

User Education

  • Offer regular training sessions to healthcare professionals with an emphasis on the importance and proper usage of fingerprint authentication.
  • Educate users about potential risks, such as fingerprint spoofing, and the importance of keeping their authentication devices clean and well-maintained.
  • Provide periodic reminders using a range of different media to ensure healthcare professionals remember why and how to securely use fingerprint authentication. 

Financial and Banking Best Practices

The financial and banking sectors are prime targets for malicious actors due to the monetary gains at stake. Recent research shows that the financial sector is contending with a soaring ransomware threat, which fingerprint biometrics can help shield against. Here are some best practices to get the most from fingerprint authentication if you’re in this sector:

  • Use fingerprint biometrics as part of a multi-factor authentication system for both customer-facing apps and internal applications.
  • Establish limits on the number or value of transactions that can be authorized solely using fingerprint biometrics within a given time frame.
  • Maintain a database of known fraudulent fingerprints or patterns and regularly update and cross-reference it during transactions.
  • Link fingerprint biometrics to specific devices. Even if someone has the user’s fingerprint data, transactions can only be approved from registered devices. 
  • Routinely review the logs of all fingerprint-authenticated transactions to detect any anomalies or suspicious patterns.
  • Simulate both internal and external attacks on the biometric system to ascertain its robustness and identify potential weak points.

Insurance Best Practices 

Adopting fingerprint biometrics in the insurance industry improves security and operational efficiency. Consider these best practices:

  • When enrolling new policyholders, perform a comprehensive check against available databases to ensure the person isn’t using multiple identities or has previously been involved in fraudulent activities.
  • Combine fingerprint biometrics with other forms of identification to verify policyholder identities and prevent fraud.
  • Streamline the claims process by allowing policyholders to verify their identity instantly with their fingerprint and reduce the need for extensive paperwork or other time-consuming verification processes.
  • Use fingerprint biometrics for those in charge of reviewing claims to ensure that only an authorized individual can perform this task.
  • Frequently back up biometric data in secure, encrypted forms to prevent data loss due to unforeseen circumstances.
  • Define a clear policy detailing how long biometric data will be stored and the protocols for its deletion after a claim has been made and paid. 

Emerging Trends in Fingerprint Biometrics

The continued fusion of hardware advancements and sophisticated software, promises to push the boundaries of what’s possible in fingerprint scanning technology. This last section of this guide will cover those possibilities and present some of the emerging trends in fingerprint technology. 

Advancements in Sensor Accuracy and Reliability

Fingerprint sensors are improving every year, with the newest generation of sensors using ultrasonic waves to capture detailed 3D images of fingerprints. Since these waves can penetrate the outer layer of skin, they can read fingerprints even when fingers are dirty, wet, or oily.

Advanced optical sensors are also now using techniques to improve the clarity of captured fingerprints, ensuring accurate readings even in challenging conditions. The latest sensors in this class are also better equipped to differentiate between a real finger and a spoofed one by assessing factors like blood flow or heat.

AI and Machine Learning: Enhancing Fingerprint Recognition Algorithms

Because machine learning models adapt over time, fingerprint recognition algorithms can get better at recognizing fingerprints the more a person uses the scanner. This ensures less interference from issues like dirt or small cuts on fingers. AI also excels at detecting unusual patterns of access attempts which can help flag potentially fraudulent login or verification attempts even if the fingerprint appears to match.

Conclusion

Fingerprint biometrics have emerged as one of the most widely recognized and adopted forms of biometric authentication in modern security practices. With the rapid growth of digital platforms, services, and the escalating threats of identity theft and fraud, a reliable, consistent, and user-friendly means of authentication is essential.

Kelvin Zero’s Multi-Pass fully leverages the benefits of fingerprint biometrics, combining offline-first biometric validation and cryptographic authentication for enterprise grade, next-gen authentication.

Want to learn more? Contact us today or set up a demo to discover how Multi-Pass can help you integrate trust throughout all of your operations.

Ronan Mahony
Ronan Mahony is a seasoned freelance content writer who specializes in cybersecurity topics. With a knack for breaking down complex subjects into engaging and informative blog posts and articles, Ronan is dedicated to making cybersecurity accessible to a wider audience. He brings his extensive expertise in the field to consistently deliver high-quality content that educates and empowers readers to navigate the digital landscape securely. In addition to his freelance work, Ronan is also a valued staff writer for Kelvin Zero, where he contributes insightful articles and guides on various cybersecurity subjects, further establishing himself as a trusted voice in the industry. Ronan Mahony is a seasoned freelance content writer who specializes in cybersecurity topics. With a knack for breaking down complex subjects into engaging and informative blog posts and articles, Ronan is dedicated to making cybersecurity accessible to a wider audience. He brings his extensive expertise in the field to consistently deliver high-quality content that educates and empowers readers to navigate the digital landscape securely. In addition to his freelance work, Ronan is also a valued staff writer for Kelvin Zero, where he contributes insightful articles and guides on various cybersecurity subjects, further establishing himself as a trusted voice in the industry.