Boost your tech industry knowledge with our FREE RESOURCES - Explore our collection
Back to all articles

January 10, 2024 - 6 minutes

The Evolution of Biometrics: Security and Identity in a Digital Age

Discover the long history of biometrics and how it arrived into the digital age.

Ironhack - Changing The Future of Tech Education

With the push to innovate and find new creative solutions to our daily problems, cybersecurity solutions are revolutionizing how we interact with our devices, providing a safe computing environment for all. We have all had to input new passwords for our phones and accounts and choose the photos that include a picture of a bicycle to enter our accounts on websites; these solutions and others are important to creating that secure space for your account.

In the past few years, cybersecurity professionals have designed a new way of preventing cyber attacks from occurring on our devices: biometric authentication. Thanks to biometrics, our devices have become much more secure. But what is biometrics exactly, how does it impact our lives, and how can we fully leverage this service in the future? That’s exactly what we’re going to discuss here. 

What is Biometrics?

According to Cambridge online dictionary, biometrics is “the use of detailed information about someone's body, for example the patterns of color in their eyes, in order to prove who they are.”  The biometrics definition may inspire images of scenes you’ve seen in a spy movie: the main character must create a cast of the fingerprints of a government official or copy the irises of a security guard to gain access to the main network. 

In tech, however, biometrics is the key to move past the barrier that security creates and these keys use biological measurements that we have readily available such as facial and fingerprint recognition; however, other identifiers such as scent and our vein patterns could be used as unique identifiers as well. The three types of biometrics security are:

  • Biological biometrics: the data that biometrics uses here include those found on the molecular and genetic level. DNA, blood, and other bodily fluids are examples that would be used for biological biometrics. 

  • Morphological biometrics: the body has many unique characteristics about it that provide the perfect opportunity for biometrics. Physical traits such as irises, fingerprints, face shape, and ear shape are considered morphological biometrics.

  • Behavioral biometrics: our bodies display a variety of unique patterns that help identify us in different ways too. When you walk, speak, and even write, your body is moving in a special way that is unlike others.

Given the world population is around 8 billion human beings, the fact that our bodies have so many unique characteristics is extremely impressive and which is why it has been used for security and identification purposes for so long now. 

Early History of Biometrics

Humans have always used our own senses to identify one another and even fingerprint biometrics was used as early as 500 BC in Babylonia for receipts of purchase identification on clay tablets. Nevertheless, when discussing modern biometrics, a few important names needs to be mentioned: 

Sir William Herschel

In 1858, Sir William Herschel worked for the Civil Service of India and took the handprints of workers, placing them on the back of their signed contracts to identify them on their paydays and prevent others from collecting their pay. This was the first documented systematic use of fingerprint and hand biometrics to determine identification. 

Alphonse Bertillon

Beyond the typical wanted poster that showed an image of someone, the detailed body measurements, or anthropometry, of criminals became a tool for identification. Alphonse Bertillon created the system of Bertillonage for French authorities in the 1870s and changed how the worlds’ police services handled criminal identification. For Bertillonage, authorities collected physical descriptions, body measurements, and photographs of criminals to create a systemized approach; this methodology would not last, however, since body measurements were not unique enough to distinguish all criminals. 

Sir Francis Galton, Sir Edward Henry, and Azizul Haque

Searching for a system that would better identify criminals for the authorities, Sir Edward Henry discovered the work of Sir Francis Galton, who had developed a system to classify all ten fingers and analyzed the minutiae, or fingerprint characteristics, to identify individuals. Henry collaborated with Galton to design a classification system and then Azizul Haque, one of his employees, created an easy and efficient model for organizing and accessing the files called the Henry Classification System and thanks to their collaboration, the FBI and other authorities created their fingerprint databases for criminal identification.

Biometrics Authentication

Although those men were paramount in setting the foundation for what biometrics would become, there was much more development over the next century and into the digital age that would revolutionize how humans would use our own physical bodies for identification purposes. Some of the most widely used biometric data include the following:

  • Fingerprint recognition: using our unique fingerprints has been a fundamental strategy for determining identity for both public and private organizations and as a result, it also became one of the most well-known approaches to biometric authentication. Since each fingerprint is singular, it has become the main tool for smartphones, laptops, and tablets to give full device access to their users and only requires a small pad to scan the fingerprint.

  • Facial recognition: although fingerprint recognition is a quick way to complete the authentication process, facial recognition can carry out the same task sometimes even faster. Facial recognition is a newer technology since it requires precise measurements of the entire face to differentiate one person from another; unlike the pictures and videos of the past that may cause doubts, cameras and software are now much more sophisticated at identifying someone with only a glance. Fingerprint recognition may have been the first biometric used for device authentication, but facial recognition may have become the primary method for people to open their smart devices, simply by looking at the camera on their smartphones. 

  • Iris recognition: similarly to facial recognition, iris recognition requires a scanner and software to analyze just your eyes since they are even more unique than your fingerprints; even your two irides don’t match up! One of the most popular uses of iris recognition is immigration control that you will frequently find at airports; some smartphones and laptops boast iris recognition too.

  • Voice recognition: one of the most efficient biometric authentication methods is voice recognition since it only depends on audio–as long as the device has a microphone, it is capable of using it. Many devices are starting to value voice recognition as a reliable tool, especially in sectors like finance and banking that require multi authentication given the high rate of fraud and cyberattacks. 

  • Behavioral recognition: no matter the similarities between you and someone else, we all have an infinite amount of factors that impact our development and make us one in a million and this can be seen when it comes to behavioral recognition and the body movements that we are constantly carrying out. After having the necessary data such as your keyboard strokes, touchscreen behavior, and mouse activity, the authentication process can become continuous and there is no need to sign in again and again. This is just the beginning for behavioral recognition and it will only become more sophisticated and all powerful as it allies with artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Biometric authentication shows that the possibilities of the tech world’s creativity knows no bounds and will only continue to develop and evolve into other new, secure, and easy ways for people to protect their data.

Biometrics and Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are two of the most exciting innovations that have arrived to the tech world in the last decade and in conjunction with biometrics, they become even more useful. Thanks to artificial intelligence augmenting biometrics, biometric authentication benefits in the following ways:

  • Accuracy and speed: when completing their analyses, they do so extremely quickly and accurately since they are programmed to be as efficient as possible; they continue to learn and optimize their processes too, further enhancing their precision and efficiency. 

  • Continuous learning: given all the data they comb through, they become privy to patterns that could be troublesome and learn quickly about new threats and potential problems in the data. 

  • Enhanced security: thanks to all the continuous learning and authentication that they carry out, security is much stronger than simply using biometric authentication on its own.

  • Fraud detection: cyberattacks have only become more frequent and because of that, it only takes one successful attempt to reach a user’s sensitive data. It’s important to remember that artificial intelligence and machine learning never make the same mistake twice.

  • Continuous authentication: instead of just a one-time authentication, they can continuously analyze user data to ensure that it is in fact them, thanks to behavioral authentication. 

The future limits of artificial intelligence and machine learning are unknown and as the tech world develops them more for cybersecurity purposes like biometric authentication, our sensitive data will be in good hands. 

Biometrics has come a long way from Babylonia to now and in the digital age, it’s an essential tool for protecting our private data. As we move into the future, biometric authentication will become more sophisticated in what it can do and how it can protect us and it will be up to the next generation of cybersecurity professionals and AI engineers to create the best possible protection. If either of these careers excite you, you can check out the Ironhack Bootcamp page and read more about which one is the right one for you.

Related Articles

Recommended for you

Ready to join?

More than 10,000 career changers and entrepreneurs launched their careers in the tech industry with Ironhack's bootcamps. Start your new career journey, and join the tech revolution!