Convenience + Security: The Maths of Multi-Modal Authentication

  • Mikkel Stegmann, Principal Scientist at Fingerprints

  • 11.06.2020 11:30 am
  • cybersecurity

For today’s efficiency-loving consumers, convenience is more important than ever. When it comes to unlocking our smartphones, for example, the hassle of having to remember PINs and passwords has been long discarded in favour of quick and easy fingerprint authentication. Now, many are ready to embrace biometric authentication in other parts of their daily lives, including payments and access control.

But can a quick tap of the finger really be the more convenient option, if wearing a pair of gloves on a cold day can prevent your smartphone from being unlocked? Or if facial recognition fails because you are wearing a face mask? This challenge has become even more pronounced in recent times, as gloves and face masks have become a necessity for many during the pandemic.

Now more than ever, consumers are eager to use authentication solutions that are secure, convenient, and hygienic in any setting. Fortunately, the biometrics industry has only just started to scratch the surface of what is possible for the technology. Now multimodality promises to take the convenience and security of biometrics to the next level – whatever the setting or environment.

Why Multimodality?

Extensive R&D investment has ensured that users can be recognized by biometric sensors across diverse settings and environments. Whether that’s face and iris recognition adapting to bright sunlight, or a fingerprint scanner still being able to read a slightly damp finger, major improvements to the technology have minimized false rejections.

But there are, of course, limits to what a single biometric identifier can do. If an item of clothing or environmental factors are obstructing the sensor, authentication becomes challenging. This is where multimodality comes into play.

Multimodal biometric authentication combines two or more identifiers, such as fingerprint, face, or iris, to either enhance the user-experience or boost the security (or both!) of user authentication. Alternatively, multimodality can be established using a combination of biometric identifiers and traditional security methods, such as keys, PINs, and passwords. Consumers are keen to adopt multimodal solutions too, with our recent research finding 38% of consumers would prefer having a dual biometric authentication solution.

Let’s take a look at the different scenarios where multimodality can improve the authentication experience.

The Choice is Yours

Fingerprint authentication is not always the most convenient option. If you’re out skiing or in the middle of cooking, for example, thick gloves and dirty hands can make fingerprint sensors hard to use. But with a multi-modal solution, you can simply switch from fingerprint to, for example, facial or iris recognition, ensuring authentication stays convenient even on the highest mountain slope.

Having multiple methods of authentication enables consumers to select identifiers depending on their environment and setting, reducing their risk of lockout. And for those who are physically restricted in their ability to use certain biometric solutions, for example because of finger scar tissue, ability to hold a phone still enough for iris recognition, or damaged pupils, having a choice when it comes to biometric authentication is especially beneficial.

Iris-based authentication is a highly secure mode of authentication. And now, thanks to considerable R&D, it’s also user-friendly and able to work when wearing a face mask or sunglasses. With hygiene masks becoming the ‘new normal’ in many countries, it’s easy to see how they could even enhance existing facial authentication use-cases, such as the “Smile and Pay” payments gaining traction in China.

But perhaps most importantly, multimodality simply allows for personal choice. If devices, such as smartphones, come with several biometric authentication options, consumers can layer and adapt them according to their preferences and environment to ensure a smooth authentication experience in every setting.

Double-Locking Security

Besides offering convenience, combining several biometric identifiers as part of the authentication process makes for even greater security.

It is difficult to spoof a fingerprint – but spoofing fingerprints and an iris in the same attack attempt is near-impossible. In this context, multimodal does not mean multi-options, but rather multi-step, with each step providing an additional layer of security.

Crucially, multi-step does not necessarily mean inconvenience – you can glance at a sensor, for example, while putting your finger on a touch sensor at the same time, enabling a highly-secure authentication without additional delay.

And for those wanting to rely on the familiarity of traditional security measures, adding a biometric dimension to existing authentication solutions, such as car keys and PIN entries, can provide an additional layer of security without additional friction.

Keep it Clean

Personal and on-device fingerprint authentication, such as mobile, on-card, or USB devices, has long been recognized as an authentication solution that is not only convenient but inherently secure. But in light of the current pandemic, it has attracted further praise for its ability to make payments, and other modes of authentication, more hygienic.  

But for shared devices, such as access pads to enter buildings or shared office printers, multi-modal biometrics can offer a more hygienic authentication solution. This could either champion the personal device approach by adding fingerprint authentication to individual keys or fobs, or by adding touchless authentication, such as facial and or iris recognition, to existing solutions.

Multi-modal touchless solutions can also strike a strong balance between security and user-experience. By combining the robust security of iris authentication with the convenience of facial recognition, a compelling authentication experience can be created for mobile, automotive and numerous other access control scenarios.

Safe, Seamless, and Secure 

It’s been less than a decade since touch sensors were first added to smartphones and the once novel technology has now become a familiar part of daily life, making secure authentication more convenient than ever. In fact, the replacement of PIN authentication with biometrics in smartphones alone is estimated to save consumers over 40 minutes a week, and nearly 3 hours a month.

Now, multimodality is set to take it one step further. Environmental changes no longer mean consumers need to sacrifice the convenience or security, of biometric authentication. By layering new and additional modalities together, biometrics can help us move through the world safely, seamlessly, and securely.

To learn more about the quality of modern biometric authentication solutions, read our myth-busting eBook.

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