Biometrics is defined as the statistical analysis of biological observations and human phenomena. The primary disciplines of biometrics as used in security environments include: fingerprinting, retinal scanning, iris scanning, facial recognition, keystroke scanning and signature verification.
But why do we need biometrics for security? With crime increasing and security becoming more important as technology develops, with more transactions taking place either over the telephone or the Internet, a more reliable means of identification than a password, where codes can easily be broken, is required. Biometrics enables the organisation to authenticate the user as opposed to a piece of information (like a PIN number) or a piece of equipment (like a dedicated telephone).
IDC predicts that the biometrics market will grow from $300 million at present to about $1,8 billion in 2005 and voice authentication will get an increasing share of this market.
The current leading biometric discipline for security is still fingerprinting. But this technology has negative connotations and can only be used as identification when the person is physically present. Good applications for fingerprint identification are voting systems, airlines and airports, driver's licences etc. This type of identification can, however, not be used remotely. This is where voice authentication comes into play. In industries such as financial institutions, correctional services, insurance and health care where large numbers of transactions are conducted via the telephone or Internet, voice is rated as the prime contender for customer identification.
Deon Scheepers: director, ATIO Corporation
The power of speech
As more people remotely manage their affairs (ie via the phone and Internet) and become 'carded and PINed out', voice verification solves a lot of issues associated with these types of security and identification. In a world where security is a major issue in all our lives, voice authentication securely offers reassurance to business and customers, invisibly and seamlessly. This technology means we do not need to know anything about customers other than the uniqueness of their voice.
The voice is something that is inherent and unique to everyone; no two voices are exactly the same. And giving a voice sample is also natural and effortless. Voice authentication products create a voiceprint based on the inflection points of your speech, emphasising the highs and lows specific to each individual's way of talking.
Rated on ease of use, accuracy and cost, this form of identification performs the best of all the biometric technologies. A huge advantage is that no additional equipment is required. The ordinary telephone line is used for verification. The voice cannot be stolen and tests have shown that even identical twins have different voiceprints. Research and testing on stress levels shown in voiceprints are now being conducted and once positively proven will make identification by voice a huge contender in security systems at ATM machines, where currently a huge amount of crime takes place. Accuracy levels for voice authentication have been proven to be as high as 99,9%. The longer the voiceprint and the phrase used for identification, the more accurate the identification process can be. Other factors that can affect the quality of the voiceprint include the quality of the telephone line and background noise.
In the USA, voice authentication is very successful in the correctional services area, where a number of prisons have rolled out a solution where the central prison system will call parolees at a certain time at a specific telephone to ensure they are keeping to their parole restrictions. Locally the Free State prison services are currently investigating using Voice Vault for the same type of application for South African prisons.
The biggest area of concern in the successful implementation of biometric type identification remains the privacy factor and legislation. Are people prepared to give away biometric information, and how secure will that biometric information be?
However, in pilot trials for voice verification as a means of customer identification, conducted by Chase Manhattan Bank a number of years ago, research has shown that 95% of customers preferred voice verification vs 80% preferring fingerprint identification.