What is biometrics?

Biometry literally means “measurement of life”. In a broader sense, it designates the quantitative study of living beings. It covers a wide range of applications, including anthropology and medicine. The term biometrics also refers to all processes used to recognize, authenticate and identify persons based on certain physical or behavioral characteristics.

These characteristics must be:

  • Universal
    so that everybody
    can use them
  • +
  • Unique
    to unequivocally distinguish
    between different persons
  • +
  • Invariable
    to ensure they can be used
    throughout a person’s lifetime
  • +
  • Recordable
    so they can be collected
    and stored
  • +
  • Measurable
    to enable comparisons

What are the different types of biometrics?

Biometrics can be divided into three main categories of characteristics:

  1. Biological
  2. Morphological*
    shape of the hand
    vein patterns
    vein pattern in the retina
  3. Behavioral
    handwritten signatures
    keyboard strokes

* Morphology: the form and structure of organisms.
** These two biometric types may be considered both morphological and behavioral characteristics.

What is biometrics used for?

To identify a person.
Identification answers the question:
“Who is this person?”

Identification (1:N) consists of matching biometric data among a large number of persons registered in a database.


To authenticate a person’s identity.
Authentication answers the question:
“Is this person really Mr. X?”

Authentication (1:1) consists of verifying that biometric data, for example which is recorded on a passport chip, is the same as for the person holding the passport.


Are all types of biometrics equally valid?

Each biometric has its advantages and drawbacks, depending on its degree of variability over time, the quality of capture and how often is used. For example, a person’s voice may be subject to occasional or even permanent changes.

IDEMIA is specialized in the three major biometric modalities, namely fingerprint, face and iris recognition. These three types of biometrics are especially reliable and effective, while being easy to deploy and use.

Fingerprint recognition

Each person has his or her own unique fingerprints – even identical twins have different fingerprints. A fingerprint comprises about a hundred major features, called minutiae. In most cases, a match between around a dozen minutiae is needed to prove that two fingerprints are identical, and establish a person’s identity to a very high degree of certainty.

Facial recognition

Facial recognition software is capable of identifying an individual according to their facial morphology. Its effectiveness depends on several key factors, including the quality of the captured image, the power of the identification algorithms (which compare, for example, spacing between the eyes), as well as the reliability of the databases used (the larger the database, the greater the probability of identifying a person), etc.

Iris recognition

The iris is the colored part of the eye, behind the cornea. It is formed before birth and its appearance changes very little during a person’s life. A person’s right iris is as different from the left iris as it is from another person’s iris. And the irises of identical twins are as different from each other as are the irises of two persons chosen at random. This distinction makes iris recognition a very reliable identification technique, even if the person concerned is wearing glasses or contact lenses.

Why do we use biometric authentication?

The fast-growing number of connected devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) goes hand in hand with the increasingly critical nature of the applications and content we can find on them. Times have changed, and we live in a world where mobility reigns. However, the typical uses and security behaviors that worked at home on a PC are more difficult to apply on the move, where passwords have reached their limits. But, more than ever, we still have to protect our data, transactions and our identity.

Biometrics is one answer: a simple wave of the hand, pressing a finger on a scanner, or looking at a camera for a second is enough to authenticate our identity.

Biometrics facilities the life of users who are increasingly mobile and connected, offering a simple alternative authentication solution to the traditional password and PIN.

Authentication methods ranked by order of security
No access code
A simple access code, such as 123 or 000
1 PWD for several accounts, changed once a year / Authentication via a social network (Facebook, etc.)
1 PWD + a fingerprint
Dual-factor biometric authentication
A complex PWD for each account and updated every day

Biometrics: simpler than a password for authentication

Biometrics means you no longer have to use unwieldy passwords. To be effective, a password has to meet four demanding criteria: it has to be changed frequently, be complex, you must not use the same one for different accounts and, above all, it must not be written down! For people on the move, biometric authentication is easier than entering a complex password several times a day.

Biometrics as a weapon against identity theft

Unlike passwords, biometrics is the only method that establishes a link between our physical and digital identities. This helps us prevent identity theft, enabling us to prove that a person accessing an account or device is really who he or she claims to be. Stealing biometric data without the person’s knowledge, and then reproducing it in a useable form is not as easy as stealing a password and using it remotely.

Biometrics makes large-scale theft very difficult

While it’s relatively easy to access thousands of accounts with stolen passwords in just a few seconds, it’s much harder to hack biometric databases. In addition to gaining access to biometric data, thieves also have to be able to produce fakes for each stolen element, and use them with the appropriate detector – thus eliminating the possibility of any large-scale attack. While the number of PIN codes is limited to the digits between 0000 and 9999, biometric data is unlimited.

Biometrics: the stakes for Society

Biometric solutions that respect user privacy

The solutions developed by IDEMIA incorporate privacy by design principles, both in terms of storage methods and access to personal data. This protect citizens and consumers alike, and guarantees the highest possible level of data protection that can be used for identity verification and authentication technologies.

Biometrics and anonymous data

Having a biometric database exists does not necessarily mean there is a link between biometric data and an identity.

The biometric identifier may be a string of numbers or a random number. Biometrics enables verification of a person’s rights (access, services, etc.), while also guaranteeing the person’s anonymity.

Biometrics and private data security

Biometric identification and authentication do not necessarily require recording data in a biometric database.

Biometric data may be stored in a chip embedded in an electronic ID card or passport, a smartphone, etc. During the authentication process the data in the chip are compared with the physical data of the card or passport bearer. With Match-On-Card technology, this operation can be performed on the chip itself, so that no data ever leaves the chip.

The main applications of biometrics

Biometrics and civil identity

Establishing and protecting a person’s unique identity

One of a State’s main missions is to guarantee the identity of its citizens. Digital transformation of society and economies are driving countries to meet new challenges to protect their citizens against identity theft and provide safe, online services. Biometrics helps address this challenge: it links our identities with our physical and digital selves. This reduces the risk of identity theft, and facilitates the implementation of new identity management services which are both practical and secure. IDEMIA supports governments at several levels:

  • Taking censuses of populations and creating civil identity registries: biometric registration of citizens and data management.
  • Issuance of secure ID documents: national e-ID cards, biometric passports, e-driver’s licenses, etc.

Biometrics and digital security

Guaranteeing people’s identities and making online transactions safe

Biometrics, whether used on a PC, smartphone or tablet, is a viable alternative to passwords and other identifiers. It guarantees people’s identities to ensure the security of online operations and services:

  • Secure transactions
  • Secure payments: biometric bank cards, payment by selfie check or by fingerprint recognition, etc.
  • Online authentication: filing tax statements, etc.
  • Secure healthcare services: reliable patient identification and identity monitoring.

Biometrics and public security

Investigations and ensuring the security of public areas and critical infrastructures

Biometrics facilitates investigations by law enforcement units. The biometric systems from IDEMIA are deployed in over 70 countries, by prestigious customers such as the FBI and INTERPOL. Biometric technologies are also used at borders: they can detect suspicious persons, or authorize access for persons who do not entail a risk.

  • Support for law enforcement: multi-biometric identification systems, including video analysis, ID checks, etc.
  • Passenger facilitation in airports: reliable identification at borders, automated or accelerated control processes, etc.
  • Secure access to public areas or critical infrastructures: biometric gates with facial recognition, access control gates based on fingerprint recognition, etc.

IDEMIA’s Top 4 Trends in Biometrics for 2020

As the world leader in biometric solutions, IDEMIA explores the top four biometric trends for 2020.

Discover Biometrics Trends

Discover our biometric offers

IDEMIA’s broad range of biometric solutions calls on technologies such as fingerprint recognition, multimodal recognition combining fingerprints and vein patterns, facial recognition and iris recognition. It reflects our unrivaled experience in biometrics, built up over the years by providing solutions for many different sectors.

IDEMIA offers different biometric solutions and components, including portable terminals, sensors, software, mobile applications and automated control gates. Virtually all of these products are designed to collect, stock and process (by comparing data) biometric information, and produce a result or authorize an action.



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