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Biometrics Based Authentication Systems

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Biometric readings, which range from several hundred bytes to over a megabyte, have the advantage that their information content is usually higher than that of a password or a pass phrase. Simply extending the length of passwords to get equivalent bit strength presents significant usability problems. It is nearly impossible to remember a 2K phrase, and it would take an annoyingly long time to type such a phrase (especially without errors). Fortunately, automated biometrics can provide the security advantages of long passwords while retaining the speed and characteristic simplicity of short passwords.

Even though automated biometrics can help alleviate the problems associated with the existing methods of user authentication, hackers will still find there are weak points in the system, vulnerable to attack. Password systems are prone to brute force dictionary attacks. Biometric systems, on the other hand, require substantially more effort for mounting such an attack. Yet there are several new types of attacks possible in the biometrics domain. This may not apply if biometrics is used as a supervised authentication tool. But in remote, unattended applications, such as Web-based e-commerce applications, hackers may have the opportunity and enough time to make several attempts, or even physically violate the integrity of a remote client, before detection.

Biometric Accuracy

A key factor in the selection of the appropriate biometric technology is its accuracy. Biometric accuracy is the system's ability of separating legitimate matches from imposters. When the live biometric template is compared to the stored biometric template, a matching score is used to confirm or deny the identity of the user. System designers set this numeric score to accommodate the desired level of accuracy for the system, as measured by the False Acceptance Rate (FAR) and False Rejection Rate (FRR).

False Rejection Rate (FRR) refers to the statistical probability that the biometric system is not able to verify the legitimate claimed identity of an enrolled person, or fails to identify an enrolled person.

False Acceptance Rate (FAR) refers to the statistical probability of False Acceptance or incorrect verification. In the most common context, both False Rejection and False Acceptance represent a security hazard.

If a mismatching pair of fingerprints is accepted as a match, it is called a false accept. On the other hand, if a matching pair of fingerprints is rejected by the system, it is called a false reject. The error rates are a function of the threshold. Often the interplay between the two errors is presented by plotting FAR against FRR with the decision threshold as the free variable. This plot is called the ROC (Receiver Operating Characteristic) curve. The two errors are complementary in the sense that if one makes an effort to lower one of the errors by varying the threshold, the other error rate automatically increases. In a biometric authentication system, the relative false accept and false reject rates can be set by choosing a particular operating point (i.e., a detection threshold). Very low (close to zero) error rates for both errors ( FAR and FRR ) at the same time are not possible. By setting a high threshold, the FAR error can be close to zero, and similarly by setting a significantly low threshold, the FRR rate can be close to zero. A meaningful operating point for the threshold is decided based on the application requirements, and the FAR versus FRR error rates at that operating point may be quite different. To provide high security, biometric systems operate at a low FAR instead of the commonly recommended equal error rate ( EER ) operating point where FAR=FRR .


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