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Biometric Types and Their Indicators: Physiological and Behavioural

If you’ve ever used your finger to open your phone, checked your face to see how much money is in your bank’s app, or yelled “Hey Alexa” to figure out how long to cook an egg. You’ve put the biometrics to good use. Physiological and behavioral biometrics (such as the ones seen in the previous example) are the two types of biometrics

A person’s fingerprint is classified as a “physiological” biometric identifier, which is a particular physical pattern on a person’s body. It is the most common biometric used in the world today to identify a human. A scan of the same person’s face, also known as face recognition, is a physiological biometric that can be segmented to reveal other physiological biometric sensors such as ear shape and the distance between their eyes.

A person’s voice is a “behavioral” biometric indicator – specific patterns that are related to an individual’s actions. A physical fingerprint can be lifted off of a device, but, the way you use said device can be measured to make a profile. Though there are some crossovers to physical traits, behavioral biometric indicators are increasingly being used in digital applications and online to follow and determine who a person is based on a set of patterns created by how they behave. For example, most modern companies that have a digital platform will look at behavioral characteristics like scrolling on a web page with a mouse, swiping on a web page to indicate mobile browsing, or clicks vs. hard presses as one method of biometric recognition that can help build a profile of a person’s identity.

The Physiological – Shape of the Body. 

  • Fingerprint – the ridges on your finger 
  • Hand geometry – how far your fingers are apart from one another, finger length, etc.
  • Palm print – hand lines found on your palm and palm thickness/width
  • DNA – analysis of a genetic sequence
  • Blood – blood type
  • Facial measurements – including ear geometry, nose, head size and shape, eye distance, hair color, etc.
  • Iris and retinas – color and eye shape
  • Veins – vein patterns in eyes, hands, 
  • Heartbeats and EKG

Behavioral – Patterns Identified in Human Behavior

  • Typing rhythm and keystroke dynamics
  • Walking gait
  • Voice and speech inflections
  • Gestures
  • Web navigation – scrolling and swiping
  • Written text recognition like a signature or font
  • Geo-location and IP Addresses
  • Purchasing habits
  • Device use
  • Browser history and cookies

How Does Biometrics Work? What Are Biometrics Used for?

  1. Biometric software like “face recognition” captures the biological input that a user provides (in this case, a face).
  2. The software measures the capture to create a baseline data point template or the “lock” that will be the determining data point for future uses.
  3. The biometric characteristics that are measured and captured are converted and stored as data in internal hardware on the device used, or on a cloud platform during the enrollment phase.
  4. From there, biometric sensors compare any new inputs as a potential “key”  to the previously derived string of data in the “lock.” Only the matching biometrics, whether its physiological or behavioral characteristics, provided will confirm a person’s identity and unlock the service or account

A large part of why biometrics allows a high level of security is that current commercial technology prevents biometric characteristics from being re-engineered digitally for nefarious purposes. You have to have a real, physical fingerprint to be able to use and be approved by a fingerprint scanner. However, the speed of technological changes means it’s a matter of “when” not “if” technology is created to replicate biometric characteristics.

Types of Biometric Technology & Their Uses

Today, there are a huge number of applications and services that utilize biometric technology. Here are some common ones that people interact with daily:

  • Personal hardware – phones, laptops, PCs, tablets. 
  • Financial transactions – payments like wire transfers often ask for verification of a person’s identity before processing
  • Healthcare – Biometrics can help doctor’s offices, hospitals, and clinicians keep better records of patients or prevent violations by preventing the disclosure of medical records to non approved parties
  • Law enforcement  – Agents use biometrics daily to catch and track criminals. Fingerprints and DNA analysis anyone? Biometrics are also used by jails and prisons to manage inmates. For instance, agents will take pictures of an inmate’s tattoos to track criminal organization affiliation and build a biometric characteristics profile
  • Airports – Many modern airports are beginning to use facial recognition biometrics. Travelers can enroll by having a photo of their eyes and face captured by a camera. When traveling, instead of waiting in long queues to be processed, passengers simply walk into an expedited queue, look into a camera that compares their face to their biometric