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What is Biometrics and why use it in for Network Authentication?

Network security relies on one of three approaches for identification - what you have, what you know or who you are. Previous forms of identifiers relied on what you have or what you know or both. Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) were one of the first methods used for identification. There are also methods that involve passwords and physical tokens e.g. smart cards. There are a number of problems associated with this kind of identification. People forget passwords, lose tokens, reuse passwords, write them down, tokens can get stolen. The recognition of the above does not mean the identification of the person providing it - they could be presented by anybody. With the advent of e-commerce brings increased pressure on IT managers to provide partners and customers with means of identification to access corporate networks. This results in a deluge of passwords and means of access, which are often forgotten, misused or lost. With the increased population accessing these networks the risk of attacks on the networks is increased. Companies are turning to Biometric Systems to bring tighter security to their computer networks.

What is Biometrics?

"Biometrics is the development of statistical and mathematical methods applicable to data analysis problems in the biological sciences"

With regard to technology Biometrics is the term given to the use of biological traits or behavioural characteristics to identify an individual. Their traits may be fingerprints, hand geometry, facial geometry, retina patterns, iris patterns, voice recognition, handwriting recognition. A Biometrics system is basically a pattern recognition system, including all the hardware and associated software and the interconnecting infrastructure, enabling identification by matching a live sample to a stored pattern in a database. When resolving an individual’s identity there is a distinction between verification and identification and different Biometric systems fall into these two categories. Each sub-category resolves a different question. The first, verification, involves confirming or denying an individual’s claimed identity - ‘Am I who I claim I am?’ The second, identification, involves establishing an individual’s identity - ‘Who am I?’ By resolving these questions using biometrics these systems go beyond traditional security methods, by insisting that the person trying to log on is the actual person. Biometrics is irrevocably tied to the individual.

With regard to computer networks, Biometrics can be used to automatically authenticate an individual using their distinguishable traits. This security offers increased confidence levels for users of the network, providing the system is correctly implemented and utilized. The Network can be exploited fully without fear of a security breach. Biometric secure Systems on the web would make the popular targets of banking data, business intelligence, credit card numbers, medical information and other personal data transactions on the web more secure and thus increase the populations confidence in using these methods, increasing e-commerce confidence and thus enabling it to reach its full potential.

Biometrics is also being called upon in the Cellular phone industry, where the companies are vulnerable to cloning, where new phones are created using a stolen number, and new subscription fraud, where a phone is obtained using a false identity. Here Biometrics could be used on the handheld set to recognise ownership, and a biometric trait could be taken at authentication.

Biometrics can be used to secure transactions at automatic teller machines, no longer requiring the presentation of an ATM card (a biometric is hard to steal). It could also be used for transactions at point of sale. Other markets include telephone banking and Internet Banking. Biometrics can be used in any Network where the utmost security is needed. It doesn’t just provide security because the physiological traits between people are unique (PIN numbers should also be unique), but also because these traits cannot be interchanged between people.

The fundamental argument for using Biometrics for Network authentication is the increase in security while eliminating the extras such as PIN, passwords and smart cards, which can get into the wrong hands and do a lot of damage to a network, which is then not able to run at its full capacity until the security breach has been amended. In the workplace passwords and logins are often passed between co-workers, written down for convenience or reused multiple times for different networks. Biometric logins would make it unfeasible for anyone, other than the intended login, to login to the network. So for every worker, if they were to use the network an account must be set up for them. The workers cannot forget their password, which may be one of several passwords, because their password into the system is a physiological trait.

There are of course security issues with Biometrics that must be addressed. Where will the data be stored? Are you authenticating an actual live sample or just authenticating a message? Can the same Biometric be used for multiple different systems? Will the system be securely implemented? These questions will be addressed in this paper. If Biometrics for network authentication is accepted into society, in the future we may be paying for our groceries at the supermarket on credit with a laser scan of the iris - physical method of access and payment may become a thing of the past.

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