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What is Biometrics?

biometricBiometrics” means “life measurement” but the term is usually associated with the use of unique physiological characteristics to identify an individual. The application which most people associate with biometrics is security. However, biometric identification has eventually a much broader relevance as computer interface becomes more natural. Knowing the person with whom you are conversing is an important part of human interaction and one expects computers of the future to have the same capabilities.

A number of biometric traits have been developed and are used to authenticate the person’s identity. The idea is to use the special characteristics of a person to identify him. By using special characteristics we mean the using the features such as face, iris, fingerprint, signature etc.

The method of identification based on biometric characteristics is preferred over traditional passwords and PIN based methods for various reasons such as: The person to be identified is required to be physically present at the time-of-identification. Identification based on biometric techniques obviates the need to remember a password or carry a token. A biometric system is essentially a pattern recognition system which makes a personal identification by determining the authenticity of a specific physiological or behavioral characteristic possessed by the user. Biometric technologies are thus defined as the “automated methods of identifying or authenticating the identity of a living person based on a physiological or behavioral characteristic”.

A biometric system can be either an ‘identification’ system or a ‘verification’ (authentication) system, which are defined below.

Identification – One to Many: Biometrics can be used to determine a person’s identity even without his knowledge or consent. For example, scanning a crowd with a camera and using face recognition technology, one can determine matches against a known database.

Verification – One to One: Biometrics can also be used to verify a person’s identity. For example, one can grant physical access to a secure area in a building by using finger scans or can grant access to a bank account at an ATM by using retinal scan.

Biometric authentication requires to compare a registered or enrolled biometric sample (biometric template or identifier) against a newly captured biometric sample (for example, the one captured during a login). This is a three-step process (Capture, Process, Enroll) followed by a Verification or Identification process.

During Capture process, raw biometric is captured by a sensing device such as a fingerprint scanner or video camera. The second phase of processing is to extract the distinguishing characteristics from the raw biometric sample and convert into a processed biometric identifier record (sometimes called biometric sample or biometric template). Next phase does the process of enrollment. Here the processed sample (a mathematical representation of the biometric – not the original biometric sample) is stored / registered in a storage medium for future comparison during an authentication. In many commercial applications, there is a need to store the processed biometric sample only. The original biometric sample cannot be reconstructed from this identifier.

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