The Future of Smartphone Security

iris scan for mobile securityWhile swipes, passcodes, and passwords do their best to keep the unwanted out, they still leave your phone quite vulnerable to hacking. Tech companies are currently looking for new technologies to improve security. One answer that has been getting more and more attention lately has to do with what is known as biometrics.

Biometrics encapsulates technologies that use unique biological and physical characteristics for authentication purposes. Fingerprints, body odor, and even your stride can help differentiate one user from another.

Because of their individuality and integrity, biometrics has been gaining a lot attention, even going so far as to see inclusion in the recent iPhone iteration.

Besides fingerprinting, multiple options exist, each with discernable pros and cons. In the remainder of this article, we will highlight a handful of the options that exist that could be used in future smartphone security technology.

Facial recognition exists but with serious flaws

Facial recognition is a viable option for authentication, enabled by the capability of existing cameras to facilitate the service. The technology has been around for some time, ever since the Android 4.0 operating system. However, extensive steps will need to be taken in order to improve its integrity and plug security holes.

Key Issues:

  • Fooled by high-resolution photography
  • Has a track record of poor performance in previous platforms
  • Inconsistent lighting can lock users out of their devices
  • Glaring flaws suggest either further development or abandonment of the technology

Electrocardiogram provides better authentication, but with diminished convenience

According to the firm Bionym, the human heartbeat is as unique as a fingerprint. The claim is not without veracity. IEEE has published a paper detailing the quality of the technique, which provides a strong case for integrity, consistency, and accuracy in implementation. The requirement of additional hardware may pose a commercial hurdle to ubiquity.

Key Issues:

  • Unique footprint remains challenging, if not impossible to replicate
  • Requires additional hardware, worn at all time for authentication purposes
  • Authentication method requires considerable time investment, creating a pain point for impatient users
  • Cost of footprint acquisition hardware may increase cost and form factor of devices

Iris scanning offers less invasive, albeit only partially secure method

The iris, which includes the colored tissue surrounding the retina, provides a sufficiently unique profile as to enable authentication. By taking a picture using existing cellphone cameras with the assistance of minimally invasive infared light, cell phone manufacturers can implement the technology at little additional cost.

Addition of infrared light may increase form factor and cost of devices and will require a new generation of hardware development to see implementation.

Key Issues:

  • Nascent iris scanning technologies still possess flaws, including acceptance of high resolution photographs as authentic
  • Photography used by intruders must be of sufficiently high resolution, potentially mitigating this flaw
  • Challenge of aiming cell phone camera in the correct spot remains present without clear view of device display
  • Cost and form factor still unknown, hobbling development efforts

Retinal scanning offers greatest promise, but greatest technological challenge

The configuration of blood vessels that feed the retina reflect differing amounts of light than the surrounding tissue. Low-energy infared light is shined onto the back of the eye in order to capture this profile, and that picture is used to authenticate the device.

This method is likely the most secure as well, since the scan can factor in the natural movement of the eye when subjected to this light, which renders fake retinas and photographs a futile counterfeit effort. However, hardware, questions of privacy, and invasiveness represent significant hurdles to overcome.

Key Issues:

  • Diseases like glaucoma, astigmatism, and cataracts can alter profile of blood vessels in retina
  • Photography process involves usage of fairly high-intensity light, making the scan invasive
  • Current technologies would increase form factor of cellular devices manifold

In addition to hardware and commercial concerns, new authentication methods raise questions of privacy. With public outcry over recent National Security Administration revelations, the prospect of placing unique biological identifiers in the hands of others represents a psychological hurdle for those wishing to implement the technologies.

Firms developing new authentication methods will, for this reason, need to prove both the integrity of their solution and the security of its storage.

  • Biometrics offers the next promise of requisite innovation for the security of cellular devices.
  • Facial recognition poses flaws that render its inclusion unwise, even with ease of implementation.
  • Electrocardiogram provides a more secure footprint, but at the expense of convenience and price.
  • Iris and retinal scanning both present viable solutions, but with particular hardware challenges that will need to be addressed before inclusion can occur.

Only time will tell which option(s) will end up being successfully adopted and used as viable smartphone security methods. Which would you prefer to use? Leave a comment below.

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