Banks Ditch Passwords for Biometric Scans

June 27, 2016

Password protection has been an essential element of online security since the beginning of the Internet age. But as hackers become better at infiltrating digital defenses, many companies have started switching to more advanced user verification methods. For instance, millions of customers at Wells Fargo and Bank of America regularly use their fingerprints to access their accounts from mobile devices. This practice will only grow as more companies include fingerprint-scanning technology in future smartphone models.

And biometric security doesn’t stop at the hands, either. Some Wells Fargo customers can log into wealthy corporate accounts by scanning their eyes with smartphones. Meanwhile, Citigroup uses voice recognition technology to verify the identity of nearly 800,000 account holders. The military insurance company USAA can even recognize its customers by scanning their facial contours. “We believe the password is dying,” said USAA vice president for financial crimes management Tom Shaw. “We realized we have to get away from personal identification information because of the growing number of data breaches.”

For years companies dreamed of implementing biometric security measures like these but the technology always lagged behind their ideas. With the rise of smartphones, however, developers finally had a ubiquitous, advanced device that could properly scan a person’s defining features. On the other hand, that’s exactly the problem that some critics have with the practice. Fingerprints are an extremely personal resource, after all, and some customers worry that hackers could steal this important info just as easily as they would a password. Security experts say that’s not how the system works: fingerprint and eye scans are stored as “templates,” or long lines of numerical sequences that are nearly impossible to predict. Still, hackers seem to find a way through any defense, so always be careful about where you enter your personal information online.

 

Questions: 

  1. Do you feel comfortable sharing personal features like fingerprints or eye scans with companies?
  1. Why is it so difficult to defend online information from hackers?

 

Source: Michael Corkery, “Goodbye, Password. Banks Opt to Scan Fingers and Faces Instead,” The New York Times, June 21, 2016. Photo by Geoffrey Fairchild.

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