From the editor's desk: Your phone is your biometric reader?

October 2013 News

We’ve all had experience with cards, PINs and passwords as a way to access a building, computer or our own bank accounts. And much like kids today scoff because Dad doesn’t know how to send an SMS, let alone WhatsApp, there are those in the access and identity industry who look down on the many people and companies that still rely on anything non-biometric for access control.

Many of these scoffers were first to market with fingerprint biometrics, extending their disdain for all other forms of biometrics as well as the luddites with their cards and PINs. They will tell you that fingerprint biometrics is the only way to go because the technology is more mature, having had more work done on it in the past 10 years than any other biometric.

And they’re right. What’s more, fingerprint biometrics has a long history of academic study and practical implementation courtesy of the law advancing the cause of fingerprint as a means of identification for a little more than a century – or even more if you want to get technical about it. Biometric technology manufacturers simply needed to ride on the back of all that research and convert the knowledge to digital. Other biometrics, such as face or iris, are much younger, with work still ongoing.

So when someone walks into your office and tells you biometrics is a must for your access or time and attendance, and fingerprints are the only way to go, they are right. Even from a cost perspective, fingerprint technology has the rest beaten. But not for long.

As you browse through the Access and Identity Management Handbook 2014, you will notice, among other things, two articles dealing with biometrics. The one is about facial biometrics being used to grant or deny access to the VIP section at Anglo – and I don’t see the directors of Anglo as the type of people who would be happy to stand around for 10 minutes waiting for their faces to be recognised. Facial biometrics removes the need to touch anything, and if you have a decent system, it will soon identify you before you arrive at a door so you won’t even need to pause.

The second article is about voice biometrics. A South African company is rolling out a voice biometric solution that you can use over the phone or a computer to identify yourself to a server, which can allow you access to any kinds of services. This solution works for anything from simple processes such as changing your work password without having to wait for a support person, or even to allow you to do your banking.

The good thing is that everyone already has a reader in their phone, cellphone or computer’s microphone. That’s as cheap as you can get.

Of course these 'new' biometrics are in their early stages of adoption so it will be some time before they are as prevalent as good old fingerprints, but there is already some movement in the market. And true competition can only be good.

And on a lighter note, if you have been in a submarine for a couple of months and haven’t heard, the new Apple iPhone has a fingerprint reader installed.

I’ve always been sceptical about claims that South Africa is a leader in the biometric field, but after seeing the reactions from supposedly intelligent people to the new iPhone, I think we’re definitely way ahead of the US and Europe. One major publication printed an article warning that people would 'mutilate' you and chop off your finger to get into your iPhone. Didn’t we deal with that a few years ago?

I wouldn’t do my banking with an iPhone right now, if I had one, but I think Apple has found a way to introduce biometrics to the masses.

As always, any comments you have on the Access and Identity Management Handbook 2014 are more than welcome. Drop me an e-mail at

Andrew Seldon - Editor


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