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Combating Hackers with Multimodal Biometrics

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By J. Kevin Reid September 15, 2016

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J. Kevin Reid is vice president of national security and CIO at KeyLogic Systems, Inc.

Even the most tech savvy individuals aren’t immune to hackers.

As we become more and more reliant on mobile devices and applications to store sensitive data, the possibility of cyberattacks is always present. This concern is amplified for the federal government, as federal agencies are constantly tasked with combating insider threats and breaches by foreign adversaries.

To mitigate the risk of these threats, whether it’s on soil or in the cyberspace, governments around the world are using multimodal biometrics as a common mode of identification tracking. Here in the United States, the federal government has furthered this initiative by investing heavily in high-quality capture devices for everything from fingerprints to voice recognition to iris scans.

This investment is not unique to this country, as a recent study found the global biometrics market is projected to become a $21.9 billion industry by 2020. While federal agencies have been able to use biometrics to protect its board and networks, the continued growth of the technology presents a new set of challenges. As anyone involved with cybersecurity can attest, adversaries are always hunting for ways to outsmart any identification device.

For example, electronic fingerprinting is the most prevalent biometrics used by federal agencies. Recognizing this trend, hackers have begun deceiving scanners by using prosthetic thumbs and other nefarious methods.

To combat these attacks and prepare for increasingly savvy hackers, agencies must increase its use multimodal biometrics and emulate successful programs.

Fighting Insider Threats

Despite the belief we are more prone to attacks by foreign adversaries, a recent study showed 43 percent of cyber breaches are caused by internal actors. Agencies can’t afford its highly sensitive information falling into the hands of a cyber terrorist, especially when it comes from someone from within.

It is vital agencies validate the identification of its employees through multimodal biometrics. Steps are already being taken to offset insider threats through the enforcement of its Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 identification card, which securely verifies vetted federal employees and independent contractors.

Another method for agencies to ensure classified intelligence and networks remain secure is through the use of optical scanners and voice recognition tools, in tandem with other forms of personal information such as a password or security question.

Streamlining Border Security

It’s no surprise the U.S. has made great strides to secure its borders after the Homeland Security Department has adopted biometrics as the common method of identification tracking at U.S. entry and exit points. Federal agencies are estimated to conduct nearly four million electronic fingerprints and iris scans this year alone.

These scans are invaluable in quickly, and easily, detecting if a person crossing the border has presented a fraudulent identity as well as identify suspected terrorists, criminals or violators of immigration laws attempting to enter the country. Using biometric technologies to authenticate a person’s identity saves time by enabling DHS and other agencies, including the Justice Department, to automatically compare an individual’s biometrics information with all fingerprints stored in the Office of Biometric Identity Management’s database.

How Biometrics Enables EU Travel

Beyond the U.S., many of our foreign allies have been successful in adopting multimodal biometric technologies to keep their borders secure, with Europe as a prime example of effectively using biometrics.

The European Union’s traveling provisions allow individuals to easily move throughout most Union-affiliated countries. While this can present challenges and potentially put states at a greater risk of illegal entries, the EU prevents threats by allowing states to exchange visa intel, which includes biometric information of all travelers.

Because of this exchange, border guards of EU countries can examine the facial and multiple fingerprint scans of every traveler attempting to enter the country. This creates an easier detection process of faulty travel documents, while also reducing the risk of identity theft among travelers.

Agencies Must Stay Ahead of Hackers

The issue of nefarious actors entering a country is not limited to the United States or the EU. In fact, Singapore’s use of facial scanning and passport biometrics has helped prevent many criminal acts from happening.

In one particularly amazing incident, border patrol guards in Singapore recognized an individual frequently entering and exiting the country and they conducted a facial scan. At this point, they noticed the person’s neck contour was a mismatch. It was discovered that the person was wearing a latex mask and had falsely identified himself in an effort to smuggle art in and out of the country. If you have ever seen the "Mission: Impossible" movies starring Tom Cruise, you can imagine what this art smuggler was doing.

Although this might seem like a movie scene rather than real-life, it reaffirms hackers are finding new ways to dupe biometric systems. As a result, agencies need to stay ahead of the curve in adapting their technology in order to mitigate risk.

With the support of multimodal biometric intelligence, countries around the world will become less susceptible to adversary intrusions.

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