Biometric verification is any means by which a person can be uniquely identified by evaluating one or more distinguishing biological traits. Unique identifiers include fingerprints, hand geometry, earlobe geometry, retina and iris patterns, voice waves, DNA, and signatures. A record of a person’s unique characteristic is captured and kept in a database. Later on, when identification verification is required, a new record is captured and compared with the previous record in the database. If the software matches the data in the new record with that in the database record, the person’s identity is confirmed, it then grants the appropriate level of access.
Fingerprint recognition is one of the oldest, simple to install, and low-cost technology; therefore, it is more commonly used. In travel and immigration, fingerprint recognition technology is used in e-passports, e-visas, and driving licenses to authenticate an individual. In the consumer electronics industry, fingerprint recognition technology is used in laptops, computers, and smartphones, among others. Hence, fingerprint authentication finds numerous applications and is widely adopted by many industries.
Biometric verification has advanced considerably with the advent of computerized databases and the digitization of analog data, allowing for almost instantaneous personal identification. Iris-pattern and retina-pattern authentication methods are already employed in some bank automatic teller machines.
“The demand for military biometrics is primarily rising to offer more technologically advanced methods of ensuring security against terrorist activities,” said a lead TMR analyst. Illegal immigration has been identified as major threat to any country’s security. One of the most effective methods of curbing the same is by creating biometric authentication across borders and airports.
Still, biometric data isn’t 100% secure. Just last year, 5.6 million federal employees’ fingerprint images were stolen. Databases get hacked all the time, from the IRS to Target to hospitals and banks, Universities are hacked every year, medical records, the IRS, banks, dating websites, the list goes on. “Biometric identification (perhaps at range) may strip away the anonymity that enables insurgents to blend into a society –or will allow future adversaries to identify, track, isolate, and target individual U.S. political or military leaders,” writes DOD report.
Researchers at the National Technical University of Athens in Greece led by Michail Loulakis have worked out how to exploit quantum mechanics to securely identify individuals. Quantum biometrics, they say, makes identification more accurate and harder for a malicious user to foil. What’s more, the team uses the laws of physics to quantify exactly how good quantum biometrics can be.
The new technique is based on the well-known ability of the human eye to detect single photons through rhodopsin molecules in retinal rod cells. This photon detection process is a quantum mechanism and is governed by the laws of quantum physics. However, the actual probability of detecting depends on the environment within the eye and how the light is absorbed at a specific spot on the retina, something that varies across the entire retina.
This environment determines the number of photons that arrive at the retina and the path they take. The passage of light through the cornea, the anterior chamber, the pupil, the lens, and the vitreous humor contribute to the optical losses associated with the light entering the eye. All these parameters can be lumped together into a single parameter called alpha, which can then determine the probability of detection.
However the way alpha changes called alpha map is unique for each individual and depends on the unique pattern of nerves, blood vessels, and light-sensitive cells in the eye. That makes an alpha map a good biometric signature. Loulakis and co propose to determine alpha map by beaming a random pattern of flashes into the eye but to vary the intensity of light in each flash. This pattern is carefully designed to exploit the alpha map so that it is detected as a recognizable pattern by a person with a specific alpha map but seems random to anyone else.
The performance of any detection technique depends on two performance parameters: The first is a false positive—falsely identifying Eve as the subject. The second is a false negative—misidentifying the subject. “The probabilities for a false positive and a false negative identification of this biometric technique can readily approach [one in 1 billion] and [one in ten thousand], respectively,” say Loulakis and co. Loulakis and co say that it should be possible to identify an individual with this level of accuracy using only six interrogations. “Practically, six interrogations can be realized in less than one minute of test time,” say the team.
However, eyes are adaptive organs , there is also possibility that someone tries to foil the authentication system by guessing the value of alpha and responding accordingly. However, the chances of accurately guessing the alpha can be made slim by increasing the number of points at which alpha is measured.
The technique has to still solve many challenges before it can be applied in practical applications. One important question is how to accurately measure anybody’s alpha map in the first place. There is no clear answer to that. Another problem is that alpha map for any individual also expected to change as their eyesight deteriorates as they get older.
There is also the possibility that alpha might vary over much shorter time scales. Most people experience changes in vision with factors such as colds and flu, alcohol consumption, and even with floaters passing across the field of vision. If alpha maps are ever to be considered a viable biometric signature, significant work will be needed to characterize their utility.