Author(s): Peter Bryer
Fingerprint sensors and facial recognition still aren't standard features across smartphone portfolios and platforms, but iris scanning has caught the industry's attention. Multimodal biometrics systems — using two or more biometric methods for verification — are coming to smartphones, tablets and laptops.
Iris recognition requires cameras with near-infrared capabilities to identify the unique patterns of an individual's eyes. The scans can be performed through clear eyewear and contact lenses, and can be captured at a distance. It's not a new technology, but the software and components that enable iris scanning in mobile devices are coming to market.
Last week, Microsoft introduced Windows Hello, a suite of biometric features in Windows 10. The operating system aims to make the man–machine interface more natural and secure, and will have core-level support for fingerprint sensors, facial recognition and iris scanning. Enabling biometrics in such a dominant platform as Windows means that Microsoft could be instrumental in accelerating user authentication beyond PINs and passwords. Microsoft says that Windows Hello includes highly secure anti-spoofing methods that prevent photographs from being used to trick the scanners.
Several iris-recognition prototypes were shown to potential mobile device clients at Mobile World Congress 2015. Fujitsu and partner Delta ID showcased iris-scanning hardware consisting of infrared LED light and an infrared camera. Fujitsu says that the system can perform an iris scan and unlock the device in less than a second, with an error rate of about one in 100,000.
Recent patent filings by Samsung unveil the company's development of another iris-scanning system for devices. Samsung began this research several years ago, and there had been expectation that Samsung's flagship devices would already have the capabilities to counter Apple's Touch ID fingerprint sensors. Samsung has moved from swipe fingerprint reading to touch-based sensors in its latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S6.
Several banks and governments have begun to use iris scanning as a method of identification to prevent fraud. It also makes life easier for many in developing markets, particularly in regions where residents are unlikely to have other forms of ID.
Multimodal biometrics could be used to address the identity crisis caused by massive password database breaches and phishing attacks. However, moving the technologies past their gimmick phase will require flawless implementation as muscle memory still drives the use of passwords. Iris-scanning solutions are coming to market for mobile devices — if they work as promised, they could see wide-scale adoption.