Where mobile apps benefit from biometrics

Mobile apps have become an increasingly prominent part of our lives in recent times, so much so, that many of our everyday activities are now carried out on these platforms

Communications, entertainment, social media, online shopping, online banking – the list goes on and to such an extent that mobiles have become the most used piece of technology we rely on in our lives.

The release of the iPhone 5s in 2013 with its capacitive fingerprint sensor paved the way for biometrics in mobile devices and its integration with mobile apps developed quickly soon thereafter. The manner in which mobile apps have since benefited is nothing short of staggering and they have done so in a number of different ways.

Identification and Cybersecurity

The most common and arguably most important benefit biometrics has added to mobile apps is through identification and cybersecurity. Traditionally, passwords and pins were the primary means by which some apps chose to secure themselves. 

With the growing vulnerabilities of both due to the alarmingly sophisticated attacks by hackers, biometrics has strengthened the integrity of mobile apps and diminished the cybersecurity threats they have historically been exposed to. 

Biometric security has developed in this way to include fingerprint recognition, facial recognition, voice recognition, iris recognition and even finger vein recognition more recently as ways of unlocking particular features in apps or the apps themselves.

Multi-modal security systems using multi-factor authentication (combining two forms of biometric identification) has elevated the level protection offered further still and have proved themselves to be extremely robust methods to prevent data breaches and threats.

The Banking and Finance sector have almost universally and unanimously embraced biometric security systems as the primary way to secure access to their apps and services. A report by Goode Intelligence estimates that by the end of 2020, 1.9B banking customers will be using biometrics for banking services. Bank of America, Royal Bank of Scotland, Wells Fargo and Barclays are just some of the major banks that have adopted biometrics in their mobile apps.

This uptake and the comparative fallibility of passwords and pins will inevitably see biometrics become the dominant system in this industry and many others to come. 

User experience

Another way in which mobile apps have benefited as a result of biometrics is through improved user experience. The number of apps we use on a daily basis is growing and according to TechCrunch, the average smartphone user uses 9 – 10 apps per day and 30 per month. 

If only half of these required some sort of password/pin and best practice is followed (requiring a complex and unique entry for each) that soon becomes a lot of individual passwords that must be employed and used. Many of these also need to be regularly updated and changed to ensure their continued integrity. While there are some intermediary platforms that can help you manage this, it adds another step to an already time-consuming process.

Biometrics cuts through these issues and is inherently fast and user-friendly by nature. The systems only require the individual’s specific feature (be it face, finger, voice or otherwise) which they always have with them and instantly grants them access to the tool or function in question.

The uniqueness of our own individual features and the strength of the biometric systems behind it means we can use these same features across a variety of different apps, independent of each other. This not only makes them easier for users to use but enables them to be more willing to do so, knowing they’ll have a fast and protected experience.

Data management

Biometrics has also enabled mobile app administrators to more effectively manage the large volumes of data they are responsible for. This is because an individual’s unique biometric data can be used as the focal point to create that users own individual digital key.

Previous to this, databases would often require several unique pieces of information to manage a system be it login and password, first name, family name, physical address, email etc in order to differentiate one user from the next. 

With a digital key created from an individual’s unique biometric data, this then becomes the primary identifier that all other relevant data can be attributed too. This data can then be accessed and retrieved immediately when the person is present and requires it.

It can also connect an individual’s data across a variety of different touchpoints where particularly large organisations are concerned. This is particularly pertinent to companies that offer a variety of different independent services that are ultimately connected or in situations where they have affiliations or partnerships with other companies. 

Using a digital key based on their unique biometrics, these data sources can be connected, streamlining data management systems in doing so. Such systems have been successfully deployed in a variety of different sectors including, but not limited to healthcare (for retrieving patient’s medical data), law enforcement (identifying suspects and cataloguing crime scene data) and air travel (for passenger information and passport control).

Biometrics and mobile apps will continue to evolve

As you can see, biometrics has enhanced and enriched mobile apps in a number of ways from improved cybersecurity and user experience to more efficient data management. The future that awaits is even more exciting as both technologies continue to evolve, complementing one another in doing so while leading to some great innovations and developments. 


About the author

Nelson Gomes is the Head of Networks at NEC New Zealand and is responsible for the Communications and Security areas of the business including cyber security, network security, networking, microwave technologies and optical transport. NEC is working on next generation security solutions which will deliver a predictive threat mitigation plan, allowing enterprises to self-heal. 

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