What are physiological biometrics?

Biometrics is the science of analyzing physical or behavioral characteristics specific to each individual in order to be able to authenticate their identity. In the literal and most simple sense, biometrics means the “measurement of the human body”.

If you have a relatively new smartphone, you may well be familiar with using your fingerprint to unlock your phone, access online banking services or even authenticate a mobile payment. A fingerprint is an example of physiological biometric data – something that’s related to the specific measurements, dimensions and characteristics of your body.

Here are a few other physiological biometrics:

Hand geometry

The actual shape and dimensions of your hand are sometimes used for access control and time-and-attendance operations in the workplace. However, they are not as unique as fingerprints, so aren’t viable in high-security applications.

Finger vein patterns

Fingerprints, while totally unique, can be at risk of being copied. A similar but more advanced technique looks instead at the veins underneath the fingerprint, which are virtually impossible to copy.

The eye

The unique and complex characteristics of the iris or the retina of your eye can also be used for biometric ID. Eye biometrics are commonly used for automated passport controls and national ID programmes, and are also now starting to appear in smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S8.

Face shape

Analyzing the shape of your face, as well as its specific features (e.g. distance between the eyes or the height of your ears), is used in CCTV security systems, but can also be used as a commercial identification and marketing tool. With the huge and enduring popularity of selfies, it’s something that we may see more of in low-security smartphone apps.

In addition to physiological biometrics, there are also behavioral biometrics which instead look at your own personal movements and gestures.

And remember, while biometric security is a valuable tool in authenticating identity, it alone is not enough for strong security. Three factor authentication, which involves something you know (password), something you are (biometric) and something you have (token) is the best way to prevent unauthorised access.

To find out more about the latest developments in biometrics, check out our infographic on Facial Recognition.