Guest Post: Behavioural Biometrics: a COVID-safe alternative
01 December 2020 16:05 GMT

Ryan Gosling, Commercial Director, Callsign

Face masks are now part of our everyday wardrobe. However, an unwanted side effect of the mandatory wearing of masks inside public places is the disruption caused when making payments or logging into mobile apps where facial recognition is used as a means of authentication. Either the user struggles to identify themselves with the mask on, or, they have to remove their mask altogether, posing a real health risk to themselves and other people around them.

Even the technology giant Apple is struggling with this issue. Well known for the Face ID function on the iPhone, the only change they have made to adapt to the new normal is to remove the delay between failing to recognise a face and showing a passcode for an alternative authentication.

Whilst there are some retailers and airports who have managed to implement tactical solutions to authenticate customers with masks on, the current workaround means that in most instances people have to remove their masks in public to use facial biometrics, or move to a more complex or less user-friendly way to authenticate themselves. In cases where customers do choose to keep their mask on, this might mean they resort to alternative authentication options which are not as strong to verify their identity, making them more vulnerable to fraud.

And face masks are destined to become a permanent feature. Take Asia for instance, where the wearing of face masks to protect oneself from pollution and germs has been commonplace for many years, we will likely see that behaviour reproduced across the rest of the world.

The advantages of behavioural biometrics

However, this is where the use of behavioural biometrics comes in. This technology uses gestures to positively identify a user – such as a swipe across the mobile screen or entering in a One Time Passcode (OTP) – and it can be as passive or interactive as required (passively checking MI/password/swipe/pin entry). For example, banks are more likely to employ a more interactive means of verification because it provides the customer with perception and confidence that there is strong fraud protection in place. The same perception would not be required in the same way for, say, an e-commerce platform, where security is less of a customer focus – therefore, the behavioural biometric authentication would be completely passive in the user experience.

Over time, the user’s behaviour creates a unique personal profile which can then be used to positively identify them in future. This is an ideal workaround or replacement for facial biometrics, as behavioural biometrics only requires the user to have their hand available to swipe across their mobile screen or enter an OTP to authenticate themselves. Using this method, individuals can completely remove the dependency on facial biometrics – in effect reducing the need to remove the face mask in public and avoid the associated risks of COVID-19.

Building a customer profile

By gradually building the behavioural profile of a customer when logging into a banking app, for example, the biometric authentication profile can then be used in other user journeys and channels. This could include making a payment in-store and authenticating a card payment online - not only is this convenient for the customer but it provides a massive cost saving to banks and merchants who only have to use one method of verification across their entire organisation's channels and brands.

In addition, the customer profile can be used across different devices, meaning it isn’t restricted to one device, like Face ID. This simplifies the re-registration journey for customers when they switch device and attempt to log back into their apps i.e logging back into mobile banking on a new phone.

This technology can also be used by retailers who increasingly have omnichannel operations and siloed verification solutions. Take transactions that involve Click & Collect, for example, customers could use mobile behavioural biometrics to authenticate themselves at the point of collection, instead of removing their masks for the shop assistant to ID them, again, simply by using the same behavioural biometric profile.

Passive behavioural authentication as a competitive advantage

COVID-19 forced a whole cohort of businesses online, who, at the beginning of the year, had no digital presence whatsoever. Between March and June, 85,000 businesses launched online stores or joined online marketplaces, according to research from Growth Intelligence. With more businesses online than ever before, another challenge for banks and retailers is establishing a competitive edge. These organisations need to be more open to how ‘simple and secure’ authentication can not only keep customers safe but help retain their customer base as a result of a better user experience. The passive and frictionless nature of behavioural biometrics ticks both boxes.

Another side effect of coronavirus will be the shift towards a touchless economy – everything from supermarket shopping to travel will eventually be hands-free. Amazon Go is just the tip of the iceberg. At the moment, there is the occasional need to touch a pin pad, but behavioural biometrics removes the need to physically touch another device/pin pad to verify oneself.

Whilst wearing masks protects us from COVID-19, the continued use of facial recognition can have a counter effect by exposing the individual in public and can cause challenges in protecting our identity or security. For businesses, the resulting cumbersome user experience could prove a real issue if customers get frustrated and choose to shop and bank elsewhere. Behavioural biometrics can remediate both of these challenges. Beyond the fact that the technology is more secure and user-friendly, it also has strategic uses when utilised across multiple platforms, channels and business areas. That’s why those organisations who embrace behavioural biometrics now will quickly gain a critical advantage.

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