Using biometric identification to authenticate users could prevent a data breach, especially considering more than 700 million passwords have been leaked in 2022 alone. More companies are adopting this system, though it may have critical flaws people tend to overlook. So, are biometrics access control systems secure?
Companies using biometrics access control systems generally have a safer environment than those that rely on old ways to authenticate users, such as passwords. However, that doesn’t mean biometrics are impossible to hack, and this system’s disadvantages may be too dire to overlook.
What happens when a threat actor gets your biometric data? Can hackers steal that information to log into other accounts of yours? You can quickly reset your password – but resetting your fingerprints is impossible. Is using biometrics data really safe?
- Is Biometrics Access Control Secure?
- 3 Things You Should Know About Biometrics
- 5 Biometrics Access Control Advantages
- 7 Biometrics Access Control Disadvantages
- 1. You Can’t Reset Your Fingerprints
- 2. Difficult to Hack Doesn’t Mean Impossible
- 3. Using Biometrics Makes It Easier to Track You
- 4. BAC Means Privacy Goes Out the Window
- 5. Adopting Biometrics Access Control Is Costly
- 6. False Positives Are Starting To Happen
- 7. Convenience Doesn’t Triumph Over Security
- 9 Biometrics Access Control Best Practices
- 1. Avoid Using Biometrics Whenever Possible
- 2. Research Biometrics Companies Before Doing Business
- 3. Have a Backup Plan Ready
- 4. Test the Product Before Widespread Implementation
- 5. Encrypt the Biometrics Database
- 6. Establish Clear Biometrics Policies
- 7. Train Your Employees
- 8. Update Your System Regularly
- 9. Continuously Audit Your BAC Vendor
Is Biometrics Access Control Secure?
Biometrics access control systems are secure – up to a point. You should always vet whoever will receive sensitive information, and it doesn’t get any more sensitive than your biometrics data. For that reason, it’s important to figure out who will store your information before you start using BACS.
Biometrics access control systems are secure. Hackers have a hard time replicating fingerprints (it’s almost impossible for people without vast resources), and there’s no technology available that’ll allow a threat actor to brute force this authentication process (unlike cracking passwords).
However, using biometrics comes at a very high price. You can’t reset your fingerprints. You’re out of luck if someone manages to steal your biometric data. Fortunately, most companies don’t store your fingerprint (but the lock that requires your fingerprints instead) – or at least, that’s what they claim.
Biometrics vs. Other Alternatives
- Biometrics. The body you have is full of unique patterns and traits you can use to identify yourself. Your fingerprints are unique and difficult to replicate, making them the poster child for biometrics authentication. Other parts of your body, such as your eyes, can also be used for biometrics access control systems.
- Information. Also known as what you know. We’re talking about PINs and passwords here. The main discussion when it comes to biometrics vs. alternatives has its place in whether you should continue using passwords instead of making the change to biometrics authentication.
- Physical Access. You get to places using keys or something similar (e.g., a button). Alarms and other elements also fall under the physical access area. They’re often contingencies to get to a device, not the thing that locks and unlocks the device itself. However, they’re an important part of cybersecurity because it prevents people from accessing forbidden areas.
Should You Use Biometrics Over Other Alternatives?
Using passwords over biometrics authentication is always a good idea when you’re not handling sensitive data. More importantly, biometrics authentication should be a last resort you opt in if you trust the company to whom you’re handing your information.
In other words, whether you should use biometrics over passwords or any other alternatives depends on what you’re dealing with.
You shouldn’t give your biometric data to every company that asks for it. Instead, be thrice as careful about who gets your fingerprint information (or any other biometric data set).
However, you won’t get the chance to use a password over biometrics in several scenarios, such as working certain government jobs. We’ll talk about the advantages and disadvantages of those scenarios in the second half of this article.
3 Things You Should Know About Biometrics
1. You Probably Already Use Biometrics Access Control
Do you have a smartphone? You probably are reading this article using one! That puts you at almost 50% odds of using or having used biometrics: 55% of all smartphone users have biometrics enabled.
What does that mean? It means billions of people have used biometrics at least once. Most people use it to unlock their phone using their fingerprint – but it doesn’t stop there: others have to use biometrics to work.
Other scenarios push you to use biometrics. Certain airports will ask you if you want to use biometrics to identify yourself. It’s a voluntary proposal – for now.
2. There’s More to Biometrics Than Fingerprints
Most people use their fingerprints to unlock their phones. Some may even use their eyes to authenticate their session at work. However, there’s more to biometrics than your physical body’s unique traits.
Biometrics also has to do with behavior – and it’s also a way companies and governments can track you and identify who you are. The way you type, browse the web, and even the way you walk fall under behavioral biometrics.
Why does behavioral biometrics matter? Because, as we’ve explained above, companies and governments use this information to identify you. Are you using a smartwatch? You’re giving up certain behavioral patterns that algorithms use to track you (and, in a certain way, constantly authenticate who you are).
3. A Lot of People Trust BAC – But Should They?
Choosing to use biometrics access control systems is a tough one: it provides a vast number of advantages and a growing number of disadvantages. You have to weigh both of them to see whether you should implement that system (as a company) or comply and trust it (as a user).
As you know, at least half of all smartphone users accepted biometrics as the next step in the evolution of authentication. However, should you become the next one? Should you continue to use biometrics access systems if you are already doing it?
We believe the disadvantages outweigh the advantages – but you can see that for yourself below.
5 Biometrics Access Control Advantages
1. Threat Actors Will Have a Hard Time Hacking You
Biometric data is almost impossible to crack. It’s pretty simple to understand that’s the biggest advantage biometrics access control has over other alternatives, such as passwords.
Something as small as a fingerprint will prevent the best hackers in the world from accessing your account – if the only way to get in there is to unlock it using your fingerprint.
2. Biometric Data Is Difficult To Steal
Companies are not supposed to store biometric data itself. Instead, they keep the information necessary to unlock the device or account in question.
Let’s put it this way: whenever you use BAC for the first time, the software takes your biometric data and creates a lock (so to speak). At the same time, your biometrics represent the key needed to unlock that. However, the software won’t store your biometric data but certain key points necessary to recognize your fingerprint as the right one.
Of course, we’ve said companies are not supposed to store the biometric data in question. We can’t know for sure if every company in the world is doing things the right way – or not (because it has happened before, and it led to a huge data breach).
3. BAC Is the Most Convenient
When was the last time you forgot your password? What about having to change it because your bank feels your password is too old? Storing passcodes can turn into a tedious process, especially if you don’t trust password managers.
You can forget about that when you use biometrics to log in! You only need to put your finger on the button and forget about anything else. It’s one of the biggest advantages this authentication approach has: you can’t forget your fingerprints, nor will you ever have to change them (because it’s impossible to do).
4. Biometrics Are Impossible to Transfer
One of the biggest dangers when it comes to passwords is reusing or sharing them. Doing that kind of stuff is a great way to get hacked – so never do so! However, that huge risk doesn’t push users to create multiple passcodes for different websites.
That’s the beauty of using biometric data. You don’t have to remember it, you can’t share it, and you always reuse it.
For now, we can be happy users can’t be negligent with their fingerprints the same way they’re with passwords.
5. Using BAC Could Prevent the Next Breach
Since using biometrics access control systems prevents a big number of negligent acts, you can be sure implementing this system company-wide will reduce the amount of data breaches in the future.
What does that mean? Imagine your employees use their login credentials to access certain parts of your network. A hacker can manage to steal them and get access too. Of course, you can use certain measures (such as enabling MFA) to prevent that from happening – but even multi-factor authentication has been hacked in the past.
Using biometric authentication grants a higher degree of security. However, that heightened security doesn’t come without disadvantages.
7 Biometrics Access Control Disadvantages
1. You Can’t Reset Your Fingerprints
We gave you a sneak peek of what could happen if things go wrong when a company leaks biometric data: people get into huge trouble. The first problem you quickly recognize is that you can’t reset fingerprints the same way you can do so if someone leaks your password.
However, there’s another issue: you can’t reset your behavioral biometrics either. Companies won’t collect your fingerprints alone – they’ll do the same with your behavioral patterns. One major leak could give up major information about you, and it’ll all be tied together to your physical biometric data.
2. Difficult to Hack Doesn’t Mean Impossible
Biometrics is far from a brand-new approach to cybersecurity. We’ve seen people take a shot at breaching or hacking it – and while most people were unsuccessful, some managed to use fake fingers to bypass a fingerprint block.
Of course, that’s a decade old hack used to bypass a vulnerable device (an old iPhone). However, that unlocked a gate that proved bypassing biometrics is possible.
Developers now have to make a bigger effort to continue to update their security mechanisms to stop threat actors from imitating biometric data – an effort that may improve with the sudden surge of AI tech.
3. Using Biometrics Makes It Easier to Track You
We can’t stress enough how important it is to understand your physical biometrics go hand in hand with your behavioral biometrics.
You have several tools at your disposal to trick those tracking you, though that becomes very difficult to do if someone can match how you behave to your unique physical traits.
Every organization creates a personal profile of you whenever you hand them information. They never erase that information.
The moment you give your fingerprint to Apple or Google (and these are the most secure examples possible, other than the US Government), they’ll have your unique fingerprint tied to your behavior forever.
4. BAC Means Privacy Goes Out the Window
There are many ways to tie your cell phone number, usernames of choice, and social media profiles to your real identity. It’s tough to remain anonymous online nowadays. However, there are tools at your disposal to play the privacy game.
However, these tools and opportunities go out the window whenever you willingly hand your biometrics data to an organization. You may not think it’s such a big deal – but activists, journalists, and other professionals handling sensitive data would beg to differ.
5. Adopting Biometrics Access Control Is Costly
Companies also have a huge setback when it comes to adopting biometrics access control systems. They have to spend a lot of money to make that happen.
There’s a ton of hardware and software to put in place if you want people to access your system or network using their fingers, eyes, or anything similar.
The question is, is it worth the cost?
6. False Positives Are Starting To Happen
We briefly talked about AI and hackers bypassing biometric security. It’s not a far-reaching theory of what’s soon to come – it’s a reality. Security researchers have already managed to use machine learning to get a 20% success rate at fooling BAC.
That one in five success rate came in 2018. Nowadays, AI is advancing by leaps and bounds, and while the potential for that tech is still to be seen (or be determined, new tech can always come crashing down), it wouldn’t be crazy to see a 50% success rate, which would turn biometric security into a coin toss.
7. Convenience Doesn’t Triumph Over Security
We love cybersecurity – and understand how important it is for the little guy to know how companies and governments can cause trouble when they overstep your privacy. We also know threat actors are always looming around to attack users.
For that reason, we believe security should be a priority over convenience. Sure, unlocking your device with your fingerprint is easy – but what happens when hackers manage to use that information to unlock every device you have?
However, you’ll have to use biometrics authentication. Here are our best practices to maintain your cybersecurity while you do.
9 Biometrics Access Control Best Practices
1. Avoid Using Biometrics Whenever Possible
Users and companies alike should stay away from biometrics access control systems whenever the stakes are low. You shouldn’t use this type of authentication for your everyday apps, let alone for apps you don’t know too much about.
For example, biometrics authentication is a great way to protect your finances (e.g., bank account) – but it shouldn’t be used for other stuff.
You may be wondering what kind of apps collect biometric data. Unfortunately, many of them do: from selfie apps to tech giants like TikTok. So, if you want to be careful about your privacy and security, pay attention to the companies looking to get your information without you knowing.
2. Research Biometrics Companies Before Doing Business
There’s little you can do about Meta trying to collect your biometrics from pictures, videos, and online activity – though you can make a huge effort by picking and choosing who you choose to work with.
Strictly speaking about BAC, you need to be sure who you hand your fingerprints to. At the same time, if you’re running a company looking to implement this system in-house, you need to make a huge effort when vetting all possible options (and, yes, you need multiple options).
3. Have a Backup Plan Ready
You shouldn’t have one BAC company lined up alone. You should have two or three ready to go, just in case something happens to your first option.
Don’t burn any bridges once you choose one and sign an agreement to do business with them: as you’ll see in point 8, updating your biometrics access control system is a must, and you may have to switch to another company if they’re not releasing enough updates.
4. Test the Product Before Widespread Implementation
Overhauls are never easy – and they should always happen one step at a time. We recommend implementing this system on a small sector of your company, doing isolated troubleshooting, and implementing the system company-wide once you iron out the details.
Make sure you announce it and have everyone onboard beforehand. The key to a seamless transition is to have everyone’s attention by the time it happens.
5. Encrypt the Biometrics Database
This part may or may not apply to your company. However, it may indirectly be about your company regardless. Before you decide to do business with a BAC vendor, you should ask who stores the data. At the same time, you should inquire about their encryption methods.
If, for some reason, you’re running an in-house BAC software, you need to be twice as careful – because you’ll be twice as liable. Make sure you encrypt anything because, remember, users can’t reset their fingerprints.
6. Establish Clear Biometrics Policies
It’s important to let your employees know why you’re going to implement a BAC system. It’s also a good idea to explain who needs to register their biometrics data – and how this whole overhaul heightens security for your company.
Several employees may feel uncomfortable by a company asking for information that seems too sensitive or private. However, shedding light on these issues will ease the minds of those having trouble with their new situation.
At the same time, it’d be silly to ask for low-level employees for their biometrics data. As we’ve stated above, we believe this type of authentication should be used in a high-stakes, high-risk stage.
7. Train Your Employees
It may not seem like a big deal, but letting employees know about an overhaul ahead of time is a must, especially when it’s cybersecurity-related. You have to train everyone, so they can use the new system without issues.
Plenty of questions will arise – and confusion will be a regular thing for a while. Employees may wonder if they should continue to use passwords, which company will store their biometric information, and what happens during a cyberattack.
Having this information at hand and being ready to answer any questions is a must for employees to trust the soon-to-come overhaul.
8. Update Your System Regularly
Using unpatched software is a huge cybersecurity risk – and using so-called legacy systems or outdated software is a huge offense.
Regular updates should be mandatory for every piece of software your company runs (because you never know what exploit will cause the next cyberattack).
It’s twice as important to update anything security-related, especially when we talk about something as sensitive as biometric data usage.
Paying close attention to what the developers are doing is a must too: are they keeping the system up to date, or are they lagging behind already published exploits?
9. Continuously Audit Your BAC Vendor
It’s important to keep an eye on every vendor you do business with. We’ve talked about how big supply chain attacks are becoming, and it would surprise nobody if malicious actors start to target biometrics access control systems vendors.
Companies have a huge role in stopping any issues from happening when users and customers give up their biometrics data. Vetting vendors is the first step to ensure no issues will happen.
Biometrics access control systems have a fair number of advantages and disadvantages you should consider before implementing one. It’s convenient and seemingly more secure than any other alternative, though it’s far from failproof as certain vendors would like you to believe. Most companies will probably switch to BAC in one way or another in the future – but that doesn’t mean you should.