Woman using Touch ID on mobile phone

Testing out biometric technology to identify mobile phone thieves

  • Hannah DurevallBy Hannah Durevall, 
  • September 05, 2016

Biometric technology has made our lives easier. It’s a quicker form of identity verification, which doesn’t rely on memory, and it’s non-transferrable. It is a function that is currently applied to authenticating users but, in the future, it might also help to identify unauthorised users.

Touch ID for payments and banking apps

Being able to use biometrics to complete tasks is increasingly expected by smartphone owners. According to consumer research by Visa, 68% want to use biometrics as a method of payment authentication. And, in mobile banking, 40% of the banks in our Mobile Banking Dashboard offer Touch ID as an option to log in to their mobile banking app.

Touch ID stat - 40% of banks we monitor offer Touch ID

Biometrics as an added layer of security

Biometric technology certainly improves usability but it is unlikely to completely replace all other forms of authentication. Mapa’s founder, Mark Pavan, recently wrote that banks should view biometrics as an added layer of security, which should be used in conjunction with other forms of authentication in order to provide a robust security solution. With this in mind, biometric security is still new territory and we’re expecting providers to explore it further.

Apple explores biometrics capture feature

Our fingerprints help confirm that we are the person authorised to access data or complete a particular task. However, Apple recently applied for a patent in the US to grab biometric information from iPhone thieves – in other words, the function of biometric technology might extend to identifying unauthorised users.

Biometric capture for unauthorized user identification’, as the patent is called, would be triggered after certain conditions that indicate unauthorised use. The patent specifies that the device may obtain and store biometric information such as fingerprints, images and videos of the current user, audio of the environment, forensic interface use, and so on.

Apple has also been quoted as saying, “A captured fingerprint may be compared to a database containing fingerprints of known users (such as fingerprints of all users of a cellular service network that have been captured by the cellular service network).” From a privacy standpoint, this approach will probably be challenged.

'Erase Data' feature on iPhone

What will happen next?

It is important to note that many of the patents that Apple applies for never make it to market. If this particular feature was launched, however, the technology could alert banks to unauthorised attempts to use mobile banking apps. Banks could then block access to the mobile app and/or trigger a customer email that suggests measures to take following a theft to avoid fraudulent activity.

But until that day comes, we can continue to use Apple’s existing security features: ‘Find my iPhone’, and ‘Erase Data’.

Mapa’s upcoming report in the Insight Series will look at Security and Identity. If you would like to know more about the report or any of our other products, please send us a message.

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