Biometrics 101

By: Violet Le

April 1st 2014 will be my first half year anniversary with ImageWare Systems, which was an eye-opening and fascinating 6 months that taught me a lot about biometrics. As both the public and private sector, such as US Homeland Security and Gartner, Inc., believe that biometric security such as fingerprint, face, and voice recognition is set to hit the mainstream in 2014, I am going to give a very quick 101 introduction on biometrics too as a starting point:

What is biometrics:

  • It is the identification of humans by their characteristics or traits.
  • It is a measurable physiological and/or behavioral characteristics that can be used to verify the identity of an individual.
  • Only biometrics can verify you as “you”. Other forms of identification and verification technologies such as passwords and tokens can be either forgotten, shared, stolen, or swapped.

Different types of biometrics:

  • Physiological: such as Iris, Fingerprint, Hand, Face, Voice, Retina, DNA, even odor (yes!)
  • Behavioral such as signature, keystroke, voice, and gait

How biometrics work:

  1. Enrollment
    • First, one has to enroll -- usually a user provides samples by means of a scan (or take a picture, record a voice, etc.  – basically generating a sample)
    • That sample will be registered into a database
  2. Identification
    • This is called 1:N – where the biometric system identifies a person from the entire enrolled population (database)
  3. Authentication
    • This is also called 1:1 – Where the biometric system matches a person's claimed identity to his/her biometric. Other security technologies such as token and password can be combined as well.


Here are some quick captures of some of the science behind each type of biometrics (or the official name: “modalities”) resourced from US DOD.





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