Biometrics on the Front End
When will American banks begin implementing new technology?
- By Phil Scarfo
- Jan 01, 2013
Unlike other forms of strong authentication,
biometrics is the only means of
determining who is using the system.
Systems relying on PINs, passcodes or
less reliable means of user authentication
are rapidly becoming both ineffective and obsolete.
With the introduction of multispectral imaging,
biometrics has moved from being a partial solution to
a secure, convenient and reliable alternative.
The promise of biometrics—worry-free performance
as seen in the lab—was not fully realized in the
field for many years. The core problem has been that
conventional biometrics technologies rely on unobstructed
and complete contact between the fingerprint
and the sensor, a condition that is elusive in the real
world, a world that can be wet, dry or dirty.
However, multispectral imaging is a sophisticated
technology specifically developed to overcome the fingerprint-
capture problems that conventional imaging
systems have in less-than-ideal conditions. This more
effective technology is based on the use of multiple
spectrums of light and advanced polarization techniques
to extract unique fingerprint characteristics
from both the surface and subsurface of the skin.
Subsurface capability is important because the fingerprint
ridges seen on the surface of the finger have their
foundation beneath the surface of the skin, in the capillary
beds and other sub-dermal structures.
Unlike surface fingerprint characteristics, which
can be obscured during imaging by moisture, dirt or
wear, the “inner fingerprint” lies undisturbed and unaltered
beneath the surface. When surface fingerprint
information is combined with subsurface fingerprint
information and reassembled in an intelligent and
integrated manner, the results are more consistent,
more inclusive and more tamper resistant.
Today, we see a growing number of banks worldwide
deploying multispectral imaging biometrics solutions
as part of their next-generation ATM rollouts. As the world attempts to put an end to ID theft and
to reduce waste, fraud and abuse, the banking sector
is making a real commitment to biometrics and intelligent
identity management. With the growing cost of
identity theft, the industry is finally responding and
investing in new, more effective ways to ensure that
transactions and personal identities are secured.
In most parts of the world today, common biometric
solutions use a card plus a biometric to ensure
that the user is authorized and legitimate. Often the
card is designed to include a biometric template and,
therefore, matching can be done locally and user credentials
are carried by the customer.
Latin America Leads the
Way with Biometric ATMs
With its highly advanced financial systems technology,
Latin America is leveraging new technologies
to increase the security of its systems. As a result,
financial institutions in Latin America are embracing
fingerprint technology for their ATMs. In addition
to enhancing security, banks are able to provide
additional convenience for their customers because
there is no need for training—customers just put their
fingers down. Biometrics, formerly employee-centric
and typically confined to the back room, are now being
put in front of the customer with confidence.
Brazil’s second largest state-owned bank, Caixa
Econômica Federal (CAIXA), is currently deploying
3,500 biometric-based Diebold ATMs. Fingerprint
readers are replacing the PINs that bank customers
have historically used to authenticate their identity
and access their accounts. With multispectral imaging
biometrics, CAIXA customers now simply insert their
card and touch the fingerprint reader to conveniently
withdraw their funds and be on their way. There is no
PIN to remember and no training required.
The bank’s Bolsa Família Program, which provides
payments to low-income families to help keep
their children in school, was the catalyst for using
fingerprint biometrics to replace individual PINs for
access. Many users in the program do not have bank
accounts and use the ATM only once a month to get
their stipend. As such, users often forgot their passwords,
and bank managers were spending too much
time getting PINs renewed or changed. With 14,000
ATMs involved in the program and more than 58 million
registered customers, this was a major problem.
“CAIXA intends to expand the use of biometrics
to other service channels such as Caixa Aqui Correspondents
and Lottery shops,” according to a press
release from the CAIXA Press Office. “Other products
and services also will have the use of biometrics
as an additional resource for user authentication.”
Not to be outdone, Itautec, an ATM provider, is
now installing the first 12,000 units of a 33,000-unit
ATM network with multispectral fingerprint readers
for one of Latin America’s largest private banks.
The multinational bank had concerns that multiple
identities were being employed by some people within
their banking system. The organization needed a way
to ensure that each person had only one identity and
provide all customers with secure access to their accounts.
A biometric would solve both challenges.
High reliability is critical at the ATMs because
their use is not typically supervised; there might not
be a person on hand for customers to consult if a
problem were to occur with a transaction. Because
multispectral imaging technology provides good reads
on the first try by viewing the surface and subsurface
of fingerprints in any condition, fingerprint readers
using the technology were chosen for the ATMs. As a
result, security has been increased with a simple, easy,
intuitive touch of a finger.
“Itautec has the tenth-largest number of ATMs
being used in the world, so we needed a solution that
works,” said Fabrizio Vargas, the person responsible
for biometric systems at Itautec. “The system must
work each and every time in order to provide the level
of security and performance demanded by banking
“This (biometrics) deployment is leading the way
in showing the world’s banking community how to
take the next step in providing convenience to their
customers and security for themselves,” Vargas said.
Biometrics Beyond ATMs in Banking
In markets where an ATM infrastructure may not
yet be established, as is the case in India, a biometric
handheld device is used to authenticate both user and
service provider to ensure proper delivery of service
and provide a complete non-repudiated audit trail of
those transactions. In India, the government has been
diligently working for decades to find ways of providing
services to the citizens of an entire subcontinent
and, likewise, commercial entities also want to reach
out to the poor, especially those who have been previously
excluded because of the limited capability of
conventional biometrics technologies.
With those goals in mind, long-term initiatives
related to financial inclusion and public distribution
systems have turned to biometrics as a means of securing
field transactions and ensuring that citizens are
protected and government services are being provided
to those who are authorized to receive those benefits.
Thus, besides multispectral imaging sensors being
used in biometric ATMs, they are also deployed in
handhelds that act like micro ATMs in applications
where banking services such as opening savings accounts,
transferring funds, making deposits, withdrawing
cash and obtaining loans are taken to remote
rural areas where citizens have no access to banks.
These fingerprint sensors guarantee that rural
employment beneficiaries are actually the people authorized
to withdraw their weekly wages. Other multispectral
imaging-based handhelds are being used in
public distribution systems and education projects,
where the biometric is used by citizens for collecting
rations and for the authentication of students’ attendance
In South Africa, concern over fraud and identity
theft has grown to a level where a banking risk information
center (SABRIC) requires banks to take active
measures to become “safe, secure and risk free.”
In 2003, several large banks in South Africa began to
focus on measures to eliminate fraud and adopt identity
systems that would utilize biometrics as a means to
achieve their goals. Today, those deployments are moving
from pilot stage to full-scale deployments.
After considering these examples, all in use today,
American banks need to ask: What form of authentication
will provide us with identity assurance, convenience
and a compelling ROI? Biometrics is the
only technology that assures identity and knowing
“who” to a high degree of certainty. Biometrics also
is unique in its ability to raise the bar
on security without adding complexity
for the end user.
This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of Security Today.