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Lock Blog

A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals

Battle Of The Biometrics – Which Biometric Reading Is The Most Secure?

by Taylor April 11, 2022

There’s a battle being waged: the battle between the different biometric technologies used for electronic locks.

The idea that you can access secure locations using some part of your body instead of an easily lost or stolen key was very innovative. Since its conception, multiple technologies have tried all kinds of different biometrics to secure things the best. There are now different advantages and disadvantages of biometrics out there.

Which biometric is the most secure, though? Which will come out on top in the battle of biometrics?

Here’s an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of biometrics:

  1. Fingerprints
  2. Voice Recognition
  3. Retina/Iris Scan
  4. Face Recognition
  5. DNA
  6. Palm Print/Veins
  7. Hand Geometry
  8. Signature

1. Fingerprints

First up, we have the classic, nearly-undefeated champion – fingerprint locks. These are easily the most common biometrics – but why? Is it because they’re secure, or because they’re cheap or easy? Do they have what it takes to face off against the other biometrics?

How It Works

There are a couple types of fingerprint scanners at play in the battle of biometrics.

Optical fingerprint scanners are pretty simple – they just take a picture of your fingerprint and compare it to the version of your fingerprint that they have on file.

Capacitive fingerprint scanners are more secure than optical scanners. They send out a small electric current that conducts with human skin, measuring how much of your skin is touching the scanning device. It scans all of the tiny peaks of your fingerprint while missing the valleys.

Two less common fingerprint scanners are ultrasonic scanners and thermal scanners. These are what they sound like: the first one emits an ultrasonic sound, kind of like echolocation, to “see” the peaks and valleys in your fingerprint, and the other uses the heat emitted by your skin to do the same.

Fingerprint scanners don’t need to measure your entire fingerprint against its system. They only look at specific points in the pattern. How many points they measure depends on the system. These “landmark” points will tell the system whether or not the prints are so similar that they have to be the same print.

All in all, fingerprint scanning is a very versatile and well-prepared biometric. So how do you defeat it? Are there any disadvantages of biometrics like this?

Weaknesses

The truth is, some of the lower-end optical scanners can’t tell a photo of a fingerprint from the real thing.

That’s pretty bad and one of the main disadvantages of biometrics of this type. But what about capacitive scanners? Unfortunately, they can still be bypassed with a few clever techniques.

You can photograph a fingerprint, run it through 3D software, and then 3D-print the fingerprint. This can still be tricky, as many scanners can usually tell living tissue from objects. That being said, they can still make mistakes.

Not to mention that people can lose fingers or even hands or arms. On top of that, fingerprints can get warped, often through manual labor.

Overall, there are a few troubling disadvantages of biometrics of this type.

Security Ranking

Fingerprint scanners aren’t perfect, but it takes a lot of know-how to fake a fingerprint. So far, they may not be the best, but they’re a strong contender in the battle of biometrics.

2. Voice Recognition

Next, we have another classic – voice recognition. It may not be used for security often, but through smartphones and smart appliances, it’s quickly becoming more and more developed. And voice might be a rising star in the battle of biometrics.

How It Works

Voice recognition software comes in two varieties.

Text-dependent voice recognition reads voices and converts them into specific “text.” In the context of security, a text-dependent software would require you to say a password. These are more common in smart home appliances.

Text-independent voice recognition does not parse words from voice. Instead, it simply looks for differences in the patterns of the voice itself.

Voice recognition looks at “behavioral attributes” in voices. Specifically, it’s going to look for the way you say things and match it against the speech logged previously.

Overall, it seems pretty well-prepared for this battle. So what are the disadvantages of biometrics that use voice?

Weaknesses

These weaknesses depend on the technology used by the lock and the technology used by the thief. There are a couple of disadvantages of biometrics that use voice.

If the software is low-quality, you really can just get a high-quality recording of a voice and use that to get past voice recognition. Some experts even say that a good impression can trick the software.

But voice imitation software is getting better and better. Complex AI can recognize real voices from fake voices. Other AI can also fake voices extremely well. The truth is, voice recognition software is in the middle of a close arms race and can quickly become drowned out by the competition.

Not to mention the possibility of losing your voice or voice changes. These aren’t nearly as common or easy as fingerprint changes, so voice recognition is a little better than the competition in this category, but the possibility is there.

Security Ranking

Voice recognition is ready to put up a good fight but doesn’t quite square up to fingerprints. It’s a close match, but there are too many disadvantages of biometrics using voice.

Here is the current ranking:

  • Fingerprints
  • Voice

3. Retina/Iris Scan

Next up, we have not one but two different technologies that find patterns in your eye. Retina scans and iris scans are a tag-team double-hitter, making them formidable opponents in the battle of biometrics.

How It Works

Retina scans shoot imperceptible infrared light into your eye. The light goes right past most of the inner workings, hitting the blood vessels in your retina. These blood vessels have a unique pattern that, much like fingerprints, isn’t dependent on DNA, meaning identical twins will have differences in their retinas.

Iris scanners also find unique patterns, but this time in your iris. Those lines and shapes form a one-of-a-kind pattern that a machine can distinguish. These don’t use any fancy infrared light, however. All they need to do is take a picture of your eye.

So how can these be defeated? Can one scanner use both technologies, making them harder to bypass?

Weaknesses

The disadvantages of biometrics that use your eyes vary depending on the technology. It would be hard to integrate both of these technologies into one machine. So if you had to choose one or the other, which one is more effective?

Both are good in that you’re rarely going to experience changes to your eyes. That being said, you can lose an eye. Less severely, medical conditions like diabetes, glaucoma, or others can create changes in blood vessel patterns, making retina scans harder. Meanwhile, irises are usually only changed by specific types of cataract surgery.

So is iris scanning better? Well, much like fingerprint scanners, you can trick cheap iris scanners with nothing but a photograph of an iris. For higher security, retina scanners are better. There are less disadvantages in biometrics that scan your retina.

Security Ranking

Again, the disadvantages of biometrics with eyes depend on the technology. Retina scanners beat out the common changes happening with fingerprints and can’t be mimicked like voice recognition. Iris scanners, meanwhile, have some of the same problems as the others. So far, retina scanners seem to be taking the lead in the battle of biometrics.

Here is the current ranking:

  • Retinas
  • Fingerprints
  • Voice
  • Irises

4. Face Recognition

Next up, we have another rising star – facial recognition! While mostly known for being a controversial technology to recognize criminals, it’s also used in security cameras and other securing devices.

How It Works

Facial recognition uses “nodal points” – areas that it looks for and measures. Nodal points can be eye, nose, mouth distance, or whatever else.

Some low-tech versions use simple 2d pictures to detect faces. This technology is also capable of capturing 3-dimensional images and getting a more complete picture of the face.

So what are the disadvantages of biometrics centered around faces?

Weaknesses

Well, one of the disadvantages of biometrics that measure faces is that they’re very tricky – they must capture all possible expressions and angles of the face, which can vary a lot. Some versions require neutral facial expressions to work. Details of faces can change over time, too.

The main problem with this technology is that AI algorithms are not yet great at identifying faces. This biometric is still, all-in-all, in the process of being worked on. That’s one of the main disadvantages of biometrics of this type.

Security Ranking

Facial recognition may be a rising star, but it’s not quite there yet. It’s beaten out by fingerprint, voice, retina, and iris recognition. This may not be true forever, though. Those other technologies should keep an eye on this one, as it may someday surprise them and win the battle of biometrics.

Here is the current ranking:

  • Retinas
  • Fingerprints
  • Voice
  • Irises
  • Face

5. DNA

This next one’s a classic of crime dramas everywhere. Known for its foolproof nature and definitive results, there aren’t many disadvantages of biometrics that use DNA.

How It Works

DNA technologies don’t need to look at the entire DNA strand. Much like fingerprint reading, it only needs to look at specific parts.

The truth is, a majority of DNA (about 99.9%) is identical between all humans, so DNA technologies need to find those tiny differences. A chemical reaction separates the DNA into strands. The strands are measured against whatever DNA sample they’re being compared to.

Sounds pretty concrete, right?

Weaknesses

The main problem of the disadvantages of biometrics using DNA is that it takes a lot of time and equipment to match DNA. “Rapid” DNA testing takes 90 minutes! If you’re waiting 90 minutes to access a secure area, there better be something pretty important inside.

All of the chemical and lab work needed is complicated, too. Overall, DNA testing is best left to crime labs and family testing than security. This is the biggest of the disadvantages of biometrics using DNA.

One thing worth noting is that it’s the only biometric attached to a body part that you can’t lose. Maybe if the technology gets more convenient, it’ll be the new fingerprint.

Security Ranking

Security-wise, this is easily the most secure. If it comes into the ring at all, it’s beating every other biometric we’ve looked at so far. That said, it’s hardly a participant in the battle of biometrics due to how complicated and specialized it is. The other biometrics should be looking over their shoulders for this one, though.

Here is the current ranking:

  • DNA
  • Retinas
  • Fingerprints
  • Voice
  • Irises
  • Face

6. Palm Print/Veins

Here’s another group of two technologies that use the same body part – the palm print scanner and the palm vein scanner. These two are twists on some other biometric technologies and bring some intriguing things to the table.

How It Works

Palm print scanners are the same as fingerprint scanners, except with the patterns on your palm. These tend to get less wear than fingerprints, so some see that as an advantage.

Palm vein scanners, meanwhile, use the same technology as retinal scanners but with the patterns in the veins on your palm. Palm veins are much larger than retinal blood vessels, so that means there’s more opportunity for unique combinations.

Weaknesses

They have the same disadvantages as biometrics like fingerprint and retina scanners.

You can take a photo of or 3D print a palm. You can also lose your hand altogether, making this biometric impossible.

Security Ranking

These technologies might have unique ways to do things, but they aren’t much different from fingerprint scanners and retina scanners. They have the same disadvantages as biometrics like these. These can go toe-to-toe with both of those biometrics, but they’re not going to be able to beat DNA in terms of security.

Here is the current ranking:

  • DNA
  • Palm veins
  • Retinas
  • Palm prints
  • Fingerprints
  • Voice
  • Irises
  • Face

7. Hand Geometry

Here’s a pretty unusual contender – hand geometry. Some have proposed that you can measure the shape of your hands and use it as a biometric. There are some advantages and disadvantages of biometrics built on something like this.

How It Works

This technology works a lot like facial recognition. It looks at specific parts of the hand and measures them. Things like finger length or palm length are measured. You can probably already tell the disadvantages of biometrics that use something this nonspecific.

Weaknesses

The problem is hand geometry isn’t unique. Your hand is probably very different from any random stranger that you take off the street, but there are a few other people on Earth right now with the same hands as you.

Security Ranking

The truth is, hand geometry doesn’t stand a chance in this fight. It’s usually on a team with something like a fingerprint scanner, but on its own, its security potential is hopeless. There are too many disadvantages of biometrics that use hand geometry.

Here is the current ranking:

  • DNA
  • Palm veins
  • Retinas
  • Palm prints
  • Fingerprints
  • Voice
  • Irises
  • Face
  • Hand

8. Signature

The last one we’re going to look at is the only one that’s not biological – signatures. These are “behavioral biometrics,” as they’re related to something you do rather than something you have. They’re still technically biometric.

How It Works

A machine looks at the differences between two signatures. You can set these machines to different tolerances, so some can be a bit lenient while others are strict.

If the machine senses something wrong, the signature is then looked at by a human signature expert. First, the expert looks at the signatures for around 30 seconds. If the signatures still look off, the signature is put aside for another examination.

This second examination is also done by humans and takes a few minutes. They compare the signature to multiple past signatures this time. If the signatures still look different, then the signature is finally discarded.

Weaknesses

There are some disadvantages of biometrics that use behavior.

Forging signatures is something that many people got good at as children when they were trying to falsify field trip passes or hall passes. Some are good at this.

Another one of the disadvantages of biometrics using behavior is that these machines aren’t entirely accurate. The human element of signature verification usually works much better (outside of being more time-consuming).

On top of that, signatures aren’t ideal for many people with mobility issues. For example, if you have a muscle disorder, you could have trouble signing anything but still have completely working fingerprints. This is one of the biggest disadvantages of biometrics using signatures.

Security Ranking

This biometric is one of the least secure. It’s not entirely fallible and has helped prevent voter fraud in the past, but it’s easily beaten out by all of the other, more popular biometrics.

Here is the final ranking:

  • DNA
  • Palm veins
  • Retinas
  • Palm prints
  • Fingerprints
  • Voice
  • Irises
  • Face
  • Signature
  • Hand

FAQs

How do fingerprint locks work?

Fingerprint scanners take pictures of your fingerprints and match them against a photo already on file. They don’t look at the entire fingerprint but rather specific points. The likelihood of these points matching up against two different fingerprints is minuscule, so this is just as effective as using the entire fingerprint.

How do you unlock a fingerprint lock without a finger?

You can get around low-quality locks with only a photo of fingerprints. For fingerprint locks used on phones, however, you need a photo of the fingerprint, a 3D-modeling software, and a 3D printer. Even then, some of these locks can tell that you’re using a fake fingerprint. There aren’t that many disadvantages of biometric fingerprint scanners, which is why they’re used so often.

Are biometrics more secure than passwords?

In general, yes. Passwords can be compromised much easier than body parts, after all. That said, there are some disadvantages of biometrics. Biometrics can be faked, as nothing is 100% secure, but they’re generally better than passwords.

Are fingerprint scanners secure?

Compared to other methods of security, fingerprint scanners are a good option. Even the worst ones can only be tricked by a picture of a fingerprint, which is much harder to acquire than, say, a lockpick set. The disadvantages of biometrics are negligible compared to other methods.

How secure are biometrics?

Biometrics is a pretty good security option. Most can’t be bypassed the same way standard locks can, even if there are some disadvantages of biometrics.

Conclusion

This is not a comprehensive list of the players in the battle of biometrics. These are just the top contenders. Many others have tried and failed to reach the rankings of these eight. The disadvantages of biometrics not included were too strong, it seems.

All-in-all, DNA is the most secure biometric you can use. It’s very impractical, however, and for most security, retinal/palm vein scans are your best option. If you can’t afford one of these, fingerprint scanners are still pretty secure. Overall, there aren’t many disadvantages of biometrics using any of these three technologies.

The tides of the battle may change, but, for now, this is how things stand. Some day, something may come along that dethrones all eight of these contenders. Who knows where we’ll be in a few years?

Category: Safety & Security, Smart Home

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