Updated — Biometrics helps for security in ‘physical space’. Not in ‘cyber space’.

Mix up “Unique” with “Secret” and we would confuse “Identification” with “Authentication”. What is feasible in physical space is not necessarily feasible in cyber space.

Biometrics follows “unique” features of individuals’ bodies and behaviors. It means that it could be well used when deployed for identification of individuals who may be conscious or unconscious, alive or dead. Due respect could be paid to biometrics in this sphere.

Being “unique” is different from being “secret”, however. It would be a misuse of biometrics if deployed for security of the identity authentication of individuals.

Confusing “Identification” with “Authentication”, we would be building a sandcastle in which people are trapped in a nefarious false sense of security. However gigantic and grandiose it may look, the sandcastle could melt away altogether when we have a heavy storm.

Tech media seem busy arguing which biometrics is better than the others. But it is all nonsense in cyber space from security’s point of view. Instead we should ask why security-lowering measures have been touted as security-enhancing solutions.

Because of its inherent characteristics, biometrics depends on a fallback means in case of false rejection. In physical security, it could be handled by personnel in charge other than the user. In cybersecurity, however, it needs to be handled by the user themselves, in most cases by way of a password that the user themselves needs to feed.

Biometrics and Fallback Password/PIN

So long as the biometrics is backed up by a fallback password, irrespective of which are more accurate than the others, its security is lower than that of a password-only authentication as illustrated in this video.

Then, we have to wonder why and how the biometrics has been touted as a security-enhancing tool for so long, with so many security professionals being silent about the fact.

There could be various explanations — from agnotology, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, behavioral economics and so on. This phenomenon will perhaps be found to have provided an excitingly rich material for a number of scientists and researchers in those fields.

Appendix — Quantitative Examination of Multiple Authenticator Deployment (Added on 15/Feb/2019)

It appears that there are so many security professionals who pay no attention to the exactly opposite effects of ‘multi-layer’ and ‘multi-entrance deployments. Let me offer a quantitative examination of multiple authenticators deployed in two different ways.

Vulnerability (attack surface) of an authenticator is generally presented as a figure between 0 and 1. The larger the figure is, the larger the attack surface is, i.e., the more vulnerable. Assume, for instance, as just a thought experiment, that the vulnerability of the PKI-enabled token (x) be 1/10,000 and that of the password (y) be 10 times more vulnerable, say. 1/1,000. When the two are deployed in ‘multi-layer’ method, the total vulnerability (attack surface) is the product of the two, say, (x) and (y) multiplied. The figure of 1/10,000,000 means it is 1,000 times more secure than (x) alone.

On the other hand, when the two authenticators are deployed in ‘multi-entrance’ method, the total vulnerability (attack surface) is obtained by (x) + (y) — (xy), approximately 0.0011. It is about 11 times less secure than (x) alone.

So long as the figures are below 1, whatever figures are given to (x) and (y), deployment of 2 authenticators in ‘multi-layer’ method brings higher security while ‘multi-entrance’ deployment brings lower security. As such ‘multi-layer’ and ‘multi-entrance’ must be distinctly separated when talking about security effects of multiple authenticators.

Remark: Some people may wonder why (xy) is deducted from the sum of (x)+(y).

When (x) and (y) is very small, the (xy) is very close to 0, which we can practically ignore. But we should not ignore it when the figures are considerably large.

Imagine a case that both the two authenticators are deployed in an extremely careless manner, for instance, that the attack surfaces of (x) and (y) reach 70% (0.7) and 60% (0.6) respectively. If simply added the figure would be 130% (1.3). It conflicts with the starting proposition the figures being between 0 and 1.

Imagine a white surface area. Painting 70% of it in black leaves 30% white surface. Painting 60% of the remaining 30% in black will result in 88% black and 12% white surfaces. Painting 60% first in black and then painting 70% of the remaining 40% brings the same result of 88% black and 12% white. So does “(x)+(y)­-(xy)”. The overall vulnerability (attack surface) is 0.88 (88%) in this case..

Advocate of ‘Identity Assurance by Our Own Volition and Memory’, Inventor of Expanded Password System and Founder of Mnemonic Identity Solutions Limited in UK.