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Biometric Security: The Fine Print

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As adoption of biometric authentication increases, it’s important to understand the security methods used to protect biometric data, writes GREG SARRAIL, VP of Solutions Business Development at Biometrics at HID Global.

Biometric solutions are rapidly becoming the new standard for providing secure and convenient identity verification for consumers and corporations. In recent years, biometric technologies have been adopted to enhance security on mobile devices, secure access to facilities and even validate individual identity within the banking industry. When faced with new technology, many people question the security of the solution.  Where does the biometric data reside? Is it protected? Can it be easily accessed? If the data is compromised, can it be used maliciously?

Protect and/or render useless

Biometric fingerprint data is the information that is obtained by capturing unique features from an individual fingerprint image.  There are several ways to protect this information to ensure that it cannot be openly accessed and used for fraudulent means. During user authentication, the biometric data collected by the sensor must match the information that was captured during enrolment and is stored on a back-end system.  Most biometric systems use templates, mathematical representations of biometric data, rather than a raw image of a fingerprint.  Templates are much smaller than full images, which decreases the time required to provide a match, minimizes storage requirements and protects user privacy because a fingerprint image cannot be reconstructed from a template.  Some systems provide an additional layer of security by encrypting the transport tunnel and even the templates themselves to ensure the data is protected as it moves from the sensor to the back-end system.

Additional security methods can be deployed which are more dependent on the specific use case. For example, in an ATM setting, a user’s biometric information can be augmented before it is stored in a uniform way. This security practice is called “salting” and is done by combining the individual’s PIN and the fingerprint data prior to being stored. When verifying the biometric information, the same PIN is used with the same salting algorithm to provide a match. The advantage of this approach is that the back-end database does not contain an image of a fingerprint or even a standard template, but rather the combined “salted” template.  This approach increases both the security and privacy of a system.

An alternate approach is to eliminate the back-end database altogether by placing the secured biometric information on a card that is carried by the user. The new South African National ID, for example, is an identity card that securely stores an individual’s unique biometric fingerprint information that was captured during the enrolment process and was written to the card. This card is then presented at the time of verification. After the individual places a finger on the sensor the information is matched locally against the data stored on the card. No database must be queried; the transaction simply confirms that the identity of the user matches the identity stored on the card. This approach reduces the reliance on the back-end database and external transmission security.

Biometrics is the measurement of physiological characteristics; characteristics that are unique to each individual. Facial characteristics are plainly available — this is how people recognize each other, after all — and fingerprints are left behind at every restaurant, subway rail or door that we touch. A secure system must ensure that an individual, and only that individual, can use his or her own biometric data to authenticate. Thus, it is not enough to simply match biometric characteristics against enrolled data, since access to your fingerprint information isn’t protected. A secure fingerprint system will evaluate whether the finger being presented is real or simply a falsified representation of actual fingerprint data. This capability is called liveness detection and it provides an important way to secure biometric information. Liveness detection reduces the ability for a fraudster to use a fake finger or replay stolen biometric data since the data is useless without a live finger. Whichever combination of security methods are used to secure your identity, the ultimate goal is to render biometric data useless if a perpetrator were to access it.

Verify, not identify

In the non-criminal setting, biometrics is typically used to verify an individual and not to identify an individual. To verify a person’s identity the goal is to confirm with the highest level of assurance that the person is who he or she claims to be. Commercial applications often use demographic information, account numbers, card numbers or digital certificates in addition to the fingerprint data to determine a match.

Criminal systems typically don’t have any other information aside from the fingerprint, or partial fingerprint, and therefore must determine an identity with only the biometric data. This process utilizes a large back-end database to compare individual unique features of a fingerprint and to find probable matches among a stored database of fingerprint templates. This process is time intensive and expensive and is not often used in a commercial setting.

Biometric security systems are as unique as fingerprints.  Yet, good biometric systems combine the use of fingerprint templates with liveness detection to validate the identity of the right individual. Successful biometric systems are designed in accordance with the specific use case and with the desired results in mind: secure, convenient and reliable authentication that properly verifies the right individuals and rejects the wrong.

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Password managers don’t protect you from hackers

Using a password manager to protect yourself online? Research reveals serious weaknesses…

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Top password manager products have fundamental flaws that expose the data they are designed to protect, rendering them no more secure than saving passwords in a text file, according to a new study by researchers at Independent Security Evaluators (ISE).

“100 percent of the products that ISE analyzed failed to provide the security to safeguard a user’s passwords as advertised,” says ISE CEO Stephen Bono. “Although password managers provide some utility for storing login/passwords and limit password reuse, these applications are a vulnerable target for the mass collection of this data through malicious hacking campaigns.”

In the new report titled “Under the Hood of Secrets Management,” ISE researchers revealed serious weaknesses with top password managers: 1Password, Dashlane, KeePass and LastPass.  ISE examined the underlying functionality of these products on Windows 10 to understand how users’ secrets are stored even when the password manager is locked. More than 60 million individuals 93,000 businesses worldwide rely on password managers. Click here for a copy of the report.

Password managers are marketed as a solution to eliminate the security risks of storing passwords or secrets for applications and browsers in plain text documents. Having previously examined these and other password managers, ISE researchers expected an improved level of security standards preventing malicious credential extraction. Instead ISE found just the opposite. 

Click here to read the findings from the report.

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MWC: Next generation of inflight connectivity to be unveiled

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Next week at Mobile World Congress, the Seamless Air Alliance will reveal progress on its mission towards enabling the next generation of inflight connectivity. This follows a significant start for the Alliance, which has seen membership increase five-fold since the first meeting in June of last year. The Alliance has a new research laboratory setup and continues progress through its three working groups, writing specifications for the technology, requirements, and operations.

These developments represent a huge leap towards the goal of making connectivity as easy and enjoyable in the skies as it is on the ground. Appearing as part of the Airbus stand (Hall 6, stand 6G34), the Seamless Air Alliance will reveal specification topics that have been completed and published to its membership.

“The passenger experience with inflight connectivity remains one of the great technology challenges. From Day One we have been determined to deliver on our mission to bring industries and technologies together to make the inflight internet experience simple to access and a delight to use,” said the Alliance’s Chief Executive Officer, Jack Mandala.

“I have been tremendously encouraged by the enthusiastic and committed response we have seen and the widening areas of expertise we can call upon as more and more companies and organisations continue to join us,” he added.

Announced during MWC 2018, the Seamless Air Alliance has since grown to twenty-three membercompanies with more than one-hundred key personnel from across the membership participating in its three working groups, with numbers continuing to increase.

The Seamless Air Alliance was created by founding members Airbus, Airtel, Delta Air Lines, OneWeb and Sprint, and quickly joined by Air France KLM, Aeromexico, and GOL Linhas Aereas Inteligentes and global technology leaders including Astronics, Collins Aerospace, Comtech, Cyient, iDirect, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Latecoere, Nokia, and Panasonic. 

Today, the Alliance is pleased to announce five additional new members: Adaptive Channel, Etihad Airways, GlobalReach Technology, Safran, and SITAONAIR.

“We are extremely pleased to have these companies join and be a part of the companies driving the next generation of connectivity.” said Mr Mandala.

The Seamless Air Alliance will enable travelers boarding any flight, on any airline, anywhere in the world, to use their own devices to automatically connect to the Internet with no complicated login process nor paywall to scramble over.

The Alliance is also announcing the release of a new research study on the economic benefit of standardization on the inflight connectivity market at Mobile World Congress. This report is available for download at https://www.seamlessalliance.com/publications/

The Alliance is moving rapidly towards an expected demonstration of the technology later in 2019 and anticipates massive interest in Barcelona from the whole communications eco-system.

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