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information security

Fraud is on the rise: Biometrics is here to save the day—we think

September 04, 2014

We already know fraud is on the rise. Check your credit report and you’re bound to find some weird anomalies floating around at some point. Put your trash out overnight, and some shady folks will go through it when you’re asleep. Let your Social Security number or bank card PIN loose, and someone will figure out a way to use it. Legendary hip-hop group Wu Tang Clan could make a remix out of it: Fraud rules everything around us.

A recent PWC analysis shows us just that—especially when we’re in economic recovery. According to PWC, global fraud rates dropped dramatically from 43 percent in 2007 to 30 percent in 2009, right when the planet was in the throes of an economic meltdown. Perhaps fraudsters were either stuffing cash under their mattresses or there was consensus from criminals that the victims they were shaking down really didn’t have any money. But by the time the economy started chugging back to life around 2011, fraud started spiking back up to 37 percent where it is now.

Enter biometrics. Fraud observers hail recent advances in biometrics as a new opening on the innovation landscape. It’s an eighth wonder of the world to some. The Economist celebrates it as “Clocking People’s Clocks” in a recent editorial. Not only have biometrics covered fingerprints, but they are now covering a full range of recognition maps, including faces, eyes, hair, feet, etc. A recent R&M report on the North American biometrics market shows growth at a pace of nearly 17 percent between now and 2018.

Biometrics are also triggering a public policy response on the state, local and federal level as governments struggle to balance the need for fraud prevention against the concerns about privacy and Big Data encroachments. The technology found itself ensnared in the immigration reform debate over accusations that a comprehensive federal bill would have mandated a centralized biometric database of all U.S. citizens (turns out it was just fingerprints from undocumented migrants). States like Florida are looking to ban biometric use in schools. There was an attempt in Maryland to do the same, but that state’s powerful biomedical lobby—buttressed by the state as a fast-growing biomedical engineering incubator—made certain that didn’t happen.

However, as New Castle University biometrics engineering expert Dr. Risco Mutelo points out, biometrics is showing “limitations.” The technology is not exactly secretive given the open-sourcing infancy at this stage, passwords can’t be shut down and users have to maintain differing identities to prevent tracking. Gartner analyst Anne Elizabeth Robins wonders out loud if biometrics will be ready for the enterprise stage since “availability doesn't necessarily mean viability for enterprise use.”

However, as Gartner’s Mark Raskino argues, “[T]here needs to be a common place to which your life tracking digital objects—such as bathroom weighing scales and heart rate monitoring watch bands—connect and store your biometrics. There needs to be a place that keeps track of all the medicines you consume and the therapies you receive.” Hence, a growing need for biometrics will eventually translate into a growing demand for biometrics.

Will that growing demand be supplemented by a corresponding rise in biometrics expertise? Pharmaceutical and biotech placement firm Real suggests that it will, noting an “increasing demand for biometrics professionals. With the contract research organization (CRO) outsourcing market expected to be worth over $40.5 billion by 2015 this is a trend we expect to continue for the foreseeable future.” However, what will be more interesting is how the industry determines how much more technical that expertise will be beyond its current medical-based definitions. Biometrics should no longer be exclusively under the academic purview of medical professions. That will be crucial, given the security, authentication and tracking issues laid out by Mutelo. Once that pivot in perception takes place, firms specializing in advanced IT roles should be able to ride the blossoming biometrics wave.

Charles Ellison is a senior analyst relations strategist for TEKsystems. He keeps close tabs on changes and public policy shaping the innovation space. He is also a former congressional staffer, senior aide to state and local elected officials and an expert advocacy strategist. You can reach him with questions and comments @twoARguys via Twitter.

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