You are quite familiar with the need to protect your personal online banking information with a strong password. You understand the need for unique characters and for a password phrase that is not so easily guessed or uncracked by hackers. You even take the extra step to change your password every 90 days to make sure that you’re always one step ahead. But what do you do when your mobile banking app introduces the idea of biometric authentication? If you’re not sure whether to opt in to this new layer of security, here’s what you need to know.
What is biometric authentication?
Per the Biometrics Research Group from Michigan State University’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, biometric recognition is the ability of software to recognize a specific user by using anatomical or behavioral characteristics. The concept includes using your fingerprint to confirm a purchase made on your smartphone, using facial recognition technology to unlock a device or utilizing voice recognition to interact with a program.
Biometrics, MSU notes, has become increasingly popular among financial institutions as a means to combat fraud. Most commonly, mobile financial apps tend to use touch-based fingerprint identification, allowing you to forego having to type in a lengthy password every time you want to check your savings balance or monitor a transfer.
What are the benefits?
Bekah Witten, writing for the University of South Florida Department of Information Technology, notes the clearest advantage of biometric authentication as being the ability to unlock an app with your finger. Having your finger serve as the key to your mobile banking app means that you, theoretically, are the only person capable of gaining access to it. This lessens the risk of someone obtaining your password by watching you type it in.
Biometric authentication does not mean you are forgoing the conventional password. Much as you still need a several-digit pin to authenticate your smartphone when fingerprints won’t suffice, you will still need to maintain a strong password for your online banking accounts. Authentication with biometric data is merely a means to access it more quickly.
What are the possible drawbacks?
While you are ideally the only person who can access a fingerprint-unlocked application, there are concerns that this is not always the case. Witten notes that a group of researchers from MSU and New York University found that it is possible to generate false fingerprints that can trick a smartphone’s touch ID.
Alvaro Bedoya, a professor of law at Georgetown University, also notes that biometric data may be less secure than a password because it is less private — that is, your fingerprint is left on everything that you touch, creating the unlikely but still possible risk that a hacker may steal your prints from a used glass or touched doorknob. There is also the matter of being physically compelled by a second party to enter your fingerprint to unlock an app.
While biometric authentication is widely used by financial institutions for online and mobile banking, it is not without risk. The choice is yours to determine whether to utilize the technology or not, but your best protection against fraud and identity theft is as ever diligence and a commitment to personal security.