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Biometrics joins battle for online payment security

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Identity theft is costing South Africa as much as R1-billion per year and has increased by more than 200% in the past six years. It is clear that consumers need an easy to manage security solution, but is biometrics the way forward?

Growing cyber risk has ushered in the need for watertight methods of protecting personal data. According to the South African Fraud Prevention Service, identity theft is costing the country at least R1 billion per year and has increased by more than 200% in the last six years.

Demanding and tech-savvy users continue to exert extreme pressure on companies to solve the convenience versus security conundrum. This is where a seamless customer experience and data security intersects.

In today’s mobile world it is increasingly important to have secure, on-the-go authentication. As a result, many experts feel that biometrics offers the best hope.

A new research report by analyst group BIS, forecasts the global biometric market to grow from $10.08 billion in 2014 to $25.31 billion in 2020.

This steep growth projection is helping to fuel innovation that is evident in how biometrics modalities continue to spread across the human body. It started with fingerprints in the late 1960s and progressed to facial recognition. Today the list includes vein, palm, iris, voice, gait, DNA, handwritten signatures and tattoos.

The new wave of biometrics technology is gesture related and personalised through a combination of wearable technology and geo-location as well as sci-fi inspired implants and ingestible tokens. Facial emotion recognition technology is patent-pending and is pipelined for consumer use. Though these have appeared in films for many years, they are largely unproven in the real world.

A bad rap

Despite its association to the tourism industry’s recent reduction in visitor numbers, biometrics in South Africa is enjoying real-world resurgence.

Speaking at the Biometrics in Financial Services conference, Nick Perkins, divisional director for identity management at Bytes Systems Integration believes the reason is that we have arrived at a time where we need a new solution.  “The existing card and pin authentication model has not been replaced because it is simple. The problem is that it’s no longer secure and is being exploited,” says Perkins.

Essentially biometrics is the measurement of a human being through their physical characteristics. Physical biometrics is turned into electronic biometrics when an algorithm converts an image of a biometric subject into a mathematical string that can be best described as coordinates and descriptions of unique identifiable features.

These algorithms then compare a “fresh capture” to the “reference template” which is warehoused in a database. The storage of templates instead of images helps to secure biometric data.

The many biometrics modalities on offer may hold the key to its wider adoption. South African biometrics experts agree that today it is not good enough for banks and other companies to rely on one form of authentication.

PayU COO, Johan Dekker, believes a solution lies in multi-factor authentication.

“The dual-factor authentication model strives to have two of three verifications in place at all times. A pin code is what you know, a smartcard is what you have and a biometric characteristic is what you are. A one size fits all approach would not provide enough adaptability, security and redundancy in the event of an access breach,” says Dekker.

Much work to be done still

Authentication is not the only aspect of biometrics that requires smoothing out. Biometric data can be stolen, lost or otherwise compromised while being stored. Unauthorized access to biometric storage devices through corporate sabotage by disgruntled employees is a growing threat to privacy. So too, is the misuse of a biometric, given that the biometric itself cannot be changed. Once compromised it will continue to be an issue for the life of the donor, as opposed to a password which can be easily changed.

Independent identity verification expert, Dawid Jacobs, highlights a key focus area and potential driver of biometrics today.

Says Jacobs, “The emphasis is on customer experience and how quickly they can be helped. This creates allowance for potential problems which escalate over time, specially with acceptable losses. In my view there is no such thing as acceptable losses due to identity theft. The individual needs to be put back in control of their Identity.”

The rush to ensure users are happy and safe is keeping leading tech companies busy.

MasterCard is currently piloting its new biometrics app, MasterCard Identity Check, which is set for a widespread launch in 2016. The app combines facial or fingerprint recognition as well as the recent human obsession, selfies. It remains to be seen whether Mastercard have solved the problems associated with lighting and background. All fingerprint scans remain on your device and facial scans are linked to the cloud so that templates will transmit and remain safe on MasterCard’s servers.

Apple has applied to use a facial recognition system for photo distribution. This calls into question the company’s pro-privacy stance should it decide to use cloud-based processing or storage of private user info. Apple was also recently granted a US patent that covers a new technology that enables users to unlock future iPhones by…wait for it…taking a selfie.

Closer to home, Standard Bank has debuted its biometric banking app. Capitec has fingerprint details of all 6.2 million of its customers and has linked its biometric database to the Department of Home Affairs’ database, enabling it to verify customer identity. The rollout of Biometric ATMs by FNB is imminent.

Dawid Jacobs is building an independent database of certified living and deceased fingerprint identities. He aims to provide SA companies with full audit trails and to be fully compliant with POPI, ISO and all relevant legislation.

Jacobs says, “The more companies know about their customers and the more they collaborate the less pressure is on state law enforcement agencies who do not have the tech or the capacity.” This will complement the FICA endorsed Know Your Customer initiative which also endeavours to prevent identity theft and money laundering.

Mustapha Zaouini, PayU’s MEA CEO sums up the reality for all users. “The issue of protecting individual data will only grow in importance. In order to reap the convenience benefits users must prepare themselves for more disciplined and multiple information security practices in this brave new world.”

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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