FST Biometrics’ Shahar Belkin: “Convenient security has always been our goal”
At this year’s ISC West security trade show in Las Vegas, FST Biometrics won the SIA New Product Showcase for its IMID Access 4.0 biometric access control technology. Security News Desk speaks to Shahar Belkin about the company’s latest developments and where the future of biometrics is headed.
SND: What are the latest developments in biometrics? What is the scale of the biometrics market at the moment? What are the drivers for growth/decline?
Shahar Belkin: New fields and vertical markets are beginning to adopt biometrics, and these markets are using biometrics for other applications that go beyond security and secure access. These new applications are creating new challenges that encourage new developments in multi-modal biometrics and biometrics utilising a fusion of modalities. Contactless biometrics is another quickly developing field within this industry.
Overall, users are much more receptive to the use of biometrics, but they want biometrics to fit seamlessly into their lives. It is clear, however, that the use of biometrics is drastically growing. If a few years ago we only used biometrics occasionally, today most people use biometrics several times a day for various uses: unlocking phones, mobile payments, banking, in airports, etc.
SND: What are the biggest challenges facing the biometrics industry and how is FST Biometrics overcoming these?
SB: From our perspective, there are three major challenges facing the industry.
The issue of biometric aging, as recently reported in a Michigan State University study, demonstrated that a biometric template loses accuracy after seven years. As such, organisations using biometrics would need to update all biometric profiles every two to three years to ensure accuracy. This is not sustainable for organisations with hundreds or thousands of employees. FST has overcome this through developing a continuous enrollment process, by which our system is constantly learning and updating users’ profiles.
Convenience – We can’t have systems that are inconvenient or cumbersome for users. We don’t want a biometric system to interrupt the flow of everyday life. For FST, convenient security has always been our goal. Our biometric identification system is unique for its ability to accurately identify users “in motion.” Our In Motion Identification technology sets us apart, as users’ pace of life is not interrupted by our system.
3Fraud is another major industry challenge that every company is working to address. Many systems are vulnerable to presentation attacks. FST combats this through the fusion of biometric technologies we employ. I’ll discuss this further later on.
SND: FST Biometrics won the SIA New Product Showcase for IMID Access 4.0 at ISC West in Las Vegas. What does this accolade mean for the company?
SB: We were very honored. This win marks the shift of our technology’s market readiness, from being a technology used by early adopters, to one that is ready for mass market adoption.
Our new IMID technology overcomes the key biometric industry roadblocks. Today, our technology operates with minimal to no limitation of low or challenging lighting conditions; we’ve overcome the biometric aging challenge through continuous enrollment (done automatically); and our solution can tolerate considerably more natural behavior by users. We were able to demonstrate these new features to the judging panel, including our technology’s ability to identify users in low lighting environments, under 50 lux, and demonstrating a person being identified while interacting with his mobile phone – this type of identification, in which the user does not need to comply 100% with the needs of the system, shows the adaptability of our technology to the natural behavior of users.
These improvements address directly the needs of our customers, and have shifted our product from being a technology for early adopters, to being ready for mass deployments. We are very proud of this achievement.
SND: At ISC West, you used the term “visual identification” to describe how your system employs biometrics. What is visual identification?
SB: Visual Identification is exactly as its name suggests. We utilize the biometric markers that are clearly visible to the naked eye. We do not look to uncover hidden biometrics that require intrusive scanning, such as iris or fingerprint (markers which can also be relatively easily replicated for presentation attacks by skilled fraudsters). We want our technology to be as non-invasive as possible – identifying individuals as a human being would identify someone.
Our visual identification technology is trained to identify users like a human brain would. As a person approaches from a distance, you may be able to determine who s/he is by how they walk, their body type, their height, and movements specific to them. As they get closer, you can see more; you begin to see their facial features and expressions. This is a natural human approach to identification. This is what our technology does. It uses a fusion of the visual characteristics of a person to perform identification. We don’t use anything that a person wouldn’t show by simply being within sight.
SND: The banking sector is getting into biometrics in a big way to combat fraud. Could you tell us about FST Biometrics’ involvement in the financial sector and the implications of using your products there?
SB: The banking sector was one of the first major sectors that embraced biometrics as part of their remote services for identity verification, as the timing of mobile biometrics arrived right in time to fit the remote services trend occurring in the banking sector. Only in the last year has the banking industry started to understand the vulnerability of the low cost and low quality verification provided by the on-mobile biometric process. As such, we are starting to see an increased understanding within this sector, as financial institutions begin to implement stronger, more robust biometric solutions that have the needed capabilities and accuracy. This is critical as these institutions must protect themselves and their customers’ money from fraud and false identification.
SND: Fraud continues to be a pain point for many in the biometrics industry. How is FST addressing this issue?
SB: Fraud is certainly an industry issue. As mentioned earlier, certain biometrics, such as fingerprinting and iris scanning, are relatively simple to replicate. We have seen famous cases of this, as with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had her fingerprints replicated simply from a high-resolution photo of her hand. Advanced fraudsters have the ability to replicate irises and fingerprints in this way.
We combat presentation attacks by utilising a fusion of biometric markers to perform identification. When we say fusion, we don’t simply mean multi-modal (that is, you present one biometric marker, followed by another). Our system is trained to look at a whole person, fusing both facial features and body behavior analytics. The fusion of these is nearly impossible to replicate – even the most advanced robotics are not able to replicate the nuanced body behaviors of an individual. This fusion makes our technology extremely resilient against presentation attacks.
SND: It is thought that the days of passwords are numbered and that biometrics will soon take over. What do you think? Is this a fair point?
SB: This is a very fair point as far as convenience, security and cost are concerned. It is clear that biometric security is much more convenient than passwords. In addition, the security level of passwords over biometrics cannot be compared. A fraudster or thief could easily see, record or copy a password. There is almost no way to do this with a high quality biometric system. As for the cost –it would seem that the cost of a password system would be very minimal, but in fact, password management systems are very costly to organisations.
SND: Where do you see your technology going in the next five years?
SB: Five years is a long way away so let’s discuss the next 12-18 months. In general, the direction is to move from Verification (using biometrics and a document to identify a person) to Identification, giving the system the ability to identify a single person from a database of millions and even hundreds of millions. FST is constantly working to improve our contactless in-motion identification product and scale up its performance. The unique feature of our technology is the biometric fusion of facial recognition and behavioral biometrics I mentioned earlier. This technology mimics the human brain, so we are constantly working on improving and personalising our technology fusion to achieve higher levels of accuracy enabling the accurate and fast identification from very large databases using multiple modalities.
In the next one to two years we will be developing vertical-tailored solutions and easier ways of deploying and using our products. We are constantly working on packaging for easier deployment and usage to accelerate market adoption. And, we are focusing on lowering the total cost of ownership to make it an affordable solution for the many applications and verticals.