Biometric authentication and the way forward - a discussion with Nuance Communications

Arnab Mukherjee | Published 25 Oct 2016
Biometric authentication and the way forward - a discussion with Nuance Communications
  • Understanding the need and true possibilities in biometric authentication

There was a time when the word ‘security’ brought to mind the image of an actual professional guarding a building or a property. Then with the advent of the digital age, that image changed to that of a password. Almost every digital interface worth its money has asked you to enter a password at one point of time - your email, your bank account, your smartphone, your social networks and more. But passwords are increasingly becoming more of a problem than a security measure.

To begin with, they are cumbersome to remember and many of us tend to write them down or keep them too easy to guess, defeating the original purpose of the password itself. Hence it is not a surprise, that the world is increasingly shifting towards biometric security. Voice recognition, fingerprint sensors and even iris scanners are becoming somewhat common features in everyday devices. How did that come to happen? And are they really as secure as they seem to be?

We interacted with Mr Rajeev Soni, Managing Director, South Asia, Nuance Communications about the nuances (no pun intended) of biometric authentication. Nuance is the company behind Siri’s voice recognition and Dragon, one of the most widely used speech recognition software in the world, and the interaction was as follows -

Digit:  While we were growing up, biometric security was something we saw in movies and TV shows. So how did we get here and why is biometric security necessary now?
Rajeev: Passwords, PIN and security questions were never conceived to secure anything meaningful, as the inventor of the computer password himself admitted to. The end result is that we have all been using for decades an authentication method that is not well suited for the purposes it has been applied for. The massive breaches of knowledge-based authentication and the ever-growing financial losses resulting from these have pushed many organisations to move to more secure authentication methods.
Biometrics is the only authentication method that validates who is trying to access a service or an application, instead of knowledge based authentication which is validating a match in information input, or token based authentication that validates the presence of a physical device. As such, Biometrics is the only method that is well suited to secure access to sensitive information, systems or applications.
Digit: Biometric devices are sometimes a bit daunting for the common user. What has been done to make it more user-friendly while still secure enough?
Rajeev: Not all biometrics are made the same. Voice Biometrics, for example, doesn’t require the user to do anything above and beyond what they do on a daily basis, which is to speak. What’s more is that voice biometrics doesn’t require any device above and beyond the device that we all carry with us every day, which is our phone. Voice Biometrics has been shown to be highly favoured with users regardless of comfort level with technology.
Digit: Within biometric security methods, what are the global trends right now?
Rajeev: Voice biometrics has been growing very rapidly, where today there are millions of customers in virtually every country that are now authenticating with their voice. There are several drivers for the growth of voice biometrics, including its ability to authenticate customers through various interaction channels, including contact centres, mobile apps and websites.
Digit: What are some of the most significant sectors that are using biometrics as the preferred mode of security?
Rajeev: Financial institutions, telecom providers and governments are the three largest vertical sectors that have adopted voice biometrics.
Digit: Where does India stand in terms of biometric authentication and what lies ahead?
Rajeev: Financial institutions such as ICICI and Standard Chartered are paving the way for voice biometric adoption in India.
Digit: What does the future of biometrics comprise of?
Rajeev: We predict that voice biometrics will become a standard way of securing our interactions with technology and with the organisations that we do business with. We will continue to interact with humans using our voice, and we will increasingly use our voice to interact with technology, across devices, including our phones, tablets, computers and even our cars.
Digit: Is there something that you would like to convey to our readers about biometrics?
Rajeev: Voice biometrics is a key technology to making technology more human like. Combined with virtual assistants that leverage advanced cognitive intelligence capabilities, natural language understanding and sophisticated text-to-speech voice synthesis, Nuance is working towards a goal of making our interactions with technology intelligent and seamless.   

Arnab Mukherjee
Arnab Mukherjee

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