Biometrics in retrospective: from cave art to front rank authorization solutions

22 March 2018

In a constantly changing world of global data communications, low-cost Internet connections, and fast-paced software development, security is becoming more and more of an issue. Hence, it has become more vital to protect the critical infrastructure and provide security for the smooth functioning of the computing solutions from the attackers. The security can be managed in number of methods. One way to improve security is by identifying or verifying the person using biometric technologies.

Biometric systems have been researched and tested for a few decades, but have only recently entered into the public consciousness because of high profile applications, usage in entertainment media and increased usage by the public in day-to-day activities. However, where does biometrics come from? What was the impetus for its creation?

In this article, we will discuss the history of biometrics, the various biometric technologies, the security issues and finally the applications of biometric technologies in day today life.

What is biometrics?

The term “biometrics” comes from the Greek words “bio” (life) and “metrics” (to measure). Biometrics is an identification process of individual based on his/her distinctive physiological and/or behavioral features. As these characteristics are distinguishing to each and every human being, biometric identification is considered to be more secure and capable than the traditional token based and knowledge based technologies differentiating between an authorized and a fraudulent person.

History of biometrics

Biometrics is not a new concept. It is the oldest form of identification. The first evidences of biometrics appeared in 29.000 BC, when the cave dwellers used their fingerprints to sign their drawings. Babylonians also used the same very way to sign business transactions, which were in the form of clay tablets.

In 14th century in China biometric authentication was rather popular among merchants. Technology of early biometrics was rather simple: paper with ink allowed taking palm prints and footprints of children in order to differentiate them from other.

By the mid-1800s, due to industry revolution and growth, there was a necessity to identify people. And years later, all these laid the creation of a new approach that provided the ability to index fingerprints.

The biometric technologies began to appear and develop in the second half of the 20th century, coinciding with the emergence of computer systems. This sphere experienced an explosion of activity in the 1990s and began to surface in everyday applications in 2000s.

Biometric technologies

Biometric technologies can be applied to areas requiring logical access solutions, and it can be used to access applications, personal computers, networks, financial accounts, human resource records, and the telephone system. In a business-to-business scenario, the biometric authentication system can be linked to the business processes of a company to increase accountability of financial systems, vendors, and supplier transactions. The results can be extremely beneficial. Below we give the summary of some of the common biometric technologies.

Face recognition

During the whole history of humanity, people used face to distinguish one person from the other. Facial (face) recognition is a computer application that automatically identifies or verifies a person with the help of a digital image or a video frame from a video source. One of the ways to do this is to compare the given example with the examples in the database. Thus, in 2015 China unveiled the world’s first facial recognition ATM based on mapping facial data and matching it against an ID database.

However, facial recognition is not a perfect method of biometrics. As all other methods it has its own weak and strong sides. Dependence on the light, low resolution, sometimes form of hair, facial expression make the weak side of face recognition. The strongest side of the method is that it is not required aid from the test subject.


Fingerprint identification (the oldest and popular among other biometric technologies) is the process of comparing two examples of friction ridge skin impression from human fingers, palm or toes. For example, the first publicly available device to have fingerprint sensor was Motorola Atrix, which launched in 2011.

The method of fingerprint is considered to be the most reliable method. The pluses of such method are: low cost of equipment, low time of procedure. But it has some minuses: papillary picture of the finger can easily be damaged; the system of fingerprint scanners can be broken because of the high quantity of staff; some scanners “do not like “dry skin and it makes difficult for old people to use this method.

Hand geometry

Hand geometry is the use of geometric shape of the hand for recognition purposes. This method was rather popular 10 years ago but nowadays it is seldom used. For verification, the person should enter his personal PIN code and place the hand to the platen. The system makes common procedures and compares the given template with the template stored in the database.

The main advantages of this method are its simplicity, easiness of use. Scanners are not expensive. In addition, it is easy to collect hand geometry data that differs this method from fingerprinting. Environmental factors (dry skin) cannot influence on the results. Among disadvantages of the method is that it is ideal for adults but not for growing children as their hand characteristics can change in time.


Iris recognition is considered to be one of the exact methods of biometrics. Thus, in 2017 BBVA was the first Spanish bank, which launched a new iris-scanning feature. It enables BBVA customers with Samsung-compatible smartphones to log on to the bank’s mobile app simply by looking at their smartphone’s display.

Among the advantages of this method the first place is taken by fact that iris remains stable during the whole life. The method is remarkable for its high speed, scalability.

Speech recognition

Speech recognition is the process of converting a speech signal to a sequence of words by means of an algorithm implemented as a computer program. It should be noted that before Dragon or Siri, the first speech recognition system was Audrey (automatic digit recognizer), which recognized digits spoken by a single voice.

Voice biometrics offer major advantages over other types of authentication techniques in terms of usability, cost, easy of deployment and user acceptance, since it is the most nonintrusive amongst the many biometrics that are being used.

Biometrics is a promising and exciting area, where different approaches meet and provide an opportunity for a more secure and responsible world. There are a number of popular biometrics mechanisms currently deployed, some with strong histories, and some relatively new mechanisms. Each biometric technology has its own strengths and weaknesses. When properly applied, biometrics can be used to combat fraud, and ensure the foundation for many highly secure identification and personal verification solutions.

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