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Take On Payments, a blog sponsored by the Retail Payments Risk Forum of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, is intended to foster dialogue on emerging risks in retail payment systems and enhance collaborative efforts to improve risk detection and mitigation. We encourage your active participation in Take on Payments and look forward to collaborating with you.

Take On Payments

February 21, 2017


The Social Benefits of Biometrics

Based on my experience, most discussions about the authentication of individuals using a biometric modality (such as fingerprints, or voice or facial recognition) often just focus on key issues such as reliability, security, ease of use, cost, and privacy concerns. Certainly these are important issues, but one that is often omitted in the conversation is the use of a biometrics system for health and safety purposes.

My wife and I were recently blessed with the birth of our fifth grandchild, a beautiful baby girl. During the hospital visit, the risk management side of me evaluated the security aspects of the facility. What methods prevent the accidental swapping of babies or the theft of a newborn? While the frequency of such incidents in developed countries is very low, it is a more challenging issue in developing countries where medical recordkeeping is often minimal and limited to paper documents.

Talking to the hospital staff, I found out they have a number of safeguards in place to ensure the right baby is with the right mother:

  • Wristbands with barcodes that have to be scanned each time the nurse visits their room
  • An embedded RFID transmitter in a cut-resistant bracelet on the baby's leg that allows staff to see on a locational display where the baby is at any time and to sound an alarm if the infant is taken outside the protective area

These systems link the baby to the mother, but what actually documents the identity of the baby? The paper card with the baby's left and right footprints and the mother's right thumbprint has been used for decades, but is that sufficient for the future?

This issue of infant authentication reminded me of a presentation I recently attended given by noted educator and biometrics researcher Professor Anil Jain at Michigan State University. Jain and his team worked under a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a reliable, low-cost authentication process for young children. The primary purpose was to enable the tracking of children's vaccination schedules to ensure that the right child receives the full regimen of immunizations. One of the critical issues Jain and his team faced is the difficulty in obtaining usable fingerprints from newborns—the skin on their fingertips is pliable, which results in poor contrast between the pattern of their ridges and valleys.

The goal of the research program was to determine the earliest possible age at which reliable fingerprints could be obtained using current technology. Using a high-resolution optical reader providing a fast capture rate (infants don't like to be still for very long), the research team found that fingerprint enrollment for children older than six months provides acceptance rates of 99 percent. This method can potentially serve as a reliable authentication method for the remainder of their life. Coupled with the creation of an electronic health registry, the health care worker needs only to scan a child's finger to bring up immunization records and determine any future vaccinations required. You can find a short presentation of Jain's work here.

While the public is likely to continue to question the overall benefits of biometrics, Jain's work shows an additional use for biometrics technology. Where else might biometric programs be applied?

Photo of David Lott By David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

February 21, 2017 in biometrics | Permalink

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January 23, 2017


Mobile Banking and Payments Survey Results

In the fall of 2016, the Atlanta Fed and six other Federal Reserve Banks asked financial institutions (FI) in their districts to participate in a survey to determine the level and type of mobile financial services they were currently offering or planning to offer. The Atlanta Fed conducted a similar survey in the district in 2014.

Financial institutions completed 117 surveys; they represent FIs of all sizes and types operating in the district (see chart below). The response rate of 8 percent should provide financial institutions with good directional information when comparing their own mobile banking and payments strategy. You can find the full report here. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston will be preparing a consolidated report for all seven districts later this year.

Chart-one

Key learnings from the responses to this survey include:

  • Mobile banking has become a standard service of financial institutions, with 98 percent indicating they currently or plan to offer mobile banking.
  • Competitive pressure and the retention of existing customers are the primary reasons for offering mobile banking.
  • Consistent with the 2014 survey and numerous other mobile research reports, FIs cite security concerns by consumers as the greatest barrier to mobile banking adoption.
  • FIs identify biometric methodologies as the security tool most likely to be used in their program.
  • Over half (59 percent) currently or plan to support at least one mobile wallet. Their primary reason for offering the service was competitive pressure as mobile payments appear to be gaining traction among some consumers.
  • Most of the survey respondents have a long-term outlook (three years or more) for mobile payments to reach a customer participation level of 50 percent.

Supplemental results breaking the data into the six asset-size segments will be made available in early February. If you have any questions about the survey results, please let us know.

Photo of David Lott By David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

January 23, 2017 in banks and banking, biometrics, mobile banking | Permalink

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February 8, 2016


Will Biometrics Breed Virtual Clones?

In the middle of last November, our group, the Retail Payments Risk Forum, hosted a conference on the application of biometrics for banking applications. For me, one of the important "ah-ha" moments from the conference was hearing about the potential downside to the technology. While the various speakers and panelists certainly pointed out the powerful security improvements that could result from an increased use of biometrics, there were also thoughtful contributions about what could go wrong. To illustrate one of these downsides, let me take you back to the breach that occurred at the United States' Office of Personnel Management (OPM) earlier this year. For those who may have applied for a position with a government agency over the last 20 years or so, the form letter notifying you of the potential breach of your personal data read like this:

Since you applied for a position or submitted a background investigation form, the information in our records may include your name, Social Security number, address, date and place of birth, residency, educational and employment history, personal foreign travel history, information about immediate family as well as business and personal acquaintances, and other information used to conduct and adjudicate your background investigation.
Our records also indicate your fingerprints were likely compromised during the cyber intrusion. Federal experts believe the ability to misuse fingerprint data is currently (emphasis mine) limited.… If new means are identified to misuse fingerprint data, additional information and guidance will be made available.

The conference made clear, to me anyway, that fingerprint data certainly has the potential to be misused—now. Experience leads me to conclude that it is bound to happen, especially if the biometric measurements captured at enrollment are not converted to templates that mask the data.

Biometrics are sure to proliferate in the next few years. I think everyone ought to pause and consider whether or not the security advantages—that have the potential to be turned against us in a moment—are worth it. Consider a future breach and the subsequent form letter from some entity that has built biometrics into its payment process. It could include all of those things noted in the OPM excerpt above. Additionally, victims could also have to be told that their iris, facial, and voice prints along with their DNA were taken. A virtual clone masquerading as me makes me shudder. Imagine standing up when they ask for the real you to do so—and then the dismay at not being believed.

The work to advance biometric security needs not just to be focused on advancing the accuracy and efficacy of the usage, but also to have a heavy emphasis on protecting the data collected—while it's collected and used and when it's at rest, in storage. And no matter how good all of that work is, I hope that choices for transacting business remain. Cash, which requires no authentication, and paper checks, which authenticate with a signature, figure to provide useful alternatives for quite some time.

Photo of Julius Weyman By Julius Weyman, vice president, Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

February 8, 2016 in authentication, biometrics, data security, identity theft, innovation | Permalink

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July 13, 2015


Biometrics and Privacy, or Locking Down the Super-Secret Control Room

Consumer privacy has been a topic of concern for many years now, and Take on Payments has contributed its share to the discussions. Rewinding to a post from November 2013, you'll see the focus then was on how robust data collection could affect a consumer's privacy. While biometrics technology—such as fingerprint, voice, and facial recognition for authenticating consumers—is still in a nascent stage, its emergence has begun to take more and more of the spotlight in these consumer privacy conversations. We have all seen the movie and television crime shows that depict one person's fingerprints being planted at the crime scene or severed fingers or lifelike masks being used to fool an access-control system into granting an imposter access to the super-secret control room.

Setting aside the Hollywood dramatics, there certainly are valid privacy concerns about the capture and use of someone's biometric features. The banking industry has a responsibility to educate consumers about how the technology works and how it will be used in providing an enhanced security environment for their financial transaction activities. Understanding how their personal information will be protected will help consumers be likelier to accept it.

As I outlined in a recent working paper, "Improving Customer Authentication," a financial institution should provide the following information about the biometric technology they are looking to employ for their various applications:

  • Template versus image. A system collecting the biometric data elements and processing it through a complex mathematical algorithm creates a mathematical score called a template. The use of a template-based system provides greater privacy than a process that captures an image of the biometric feature and overlays it to the original image captured at enrollment. Image-based systems provide the potential that the biometric elements could be reproduced and used in an unauthorized manner.
  • Open versus closed. In a closed system, the biometric template will not be used for any other purpose than what is stated and will not be shared with any other party without the consumer's prior permission. An open system is one that allows the template to be shared among other groups (including law enforcement) and provides less privacy.
  • User versus institutional ownership. Currently, systems that give the user control and ownership of the biometric data are rare. Without user ownership, it is important to have a complete disclosure and agreement as to how the data can be used and whether the user can request that the template and other information be removed.
  • Retention. Will a user's biometric data be retained indefinitely, or will it be deleted after a certain amount of time or upon a certain event, such as when the user closes the account? Providing this information may soften a consumer's concerns about the data being kept by the financial institution long after the consumer sees no purpose for it.
  • Device versus central database storage. Storing biometric data securely on a device such as a mobile phone provides greater privacy than cloud-based storage system. Of course, the user should use strong security, including setting strong passwords and making sure the phone locks after a period of inactivity.

The more the consumer understands the whys and hows of biometrics authentication technology, I believe the greater their willingness to adopt such technology. Do you agree?

Photo of David Lott By David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

July 13, 2015 in biometrics, consumer protection, data security, privacy | Permalink

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May 4, 2015


Keeping Up with the Criminals: Improving Customer Authentication

The interesting thing about authenticating customers for checks and PIN-based debit transactions is that the customer's authentication credentials are within the transaction media themselves—a signature, a PIN. But for the rest of the transaction types, authentication is more difficult. The payments industry has responded to this challenge in a few different ways, and may be turning increasingly to the use of biometrics—that is, the use of physical and behavioral characteristics to validate a person's identity.

Improving customer authentication in the payments industry has been a focal point for the Retail Payments Risk Forum since its formation. After all, authenticating the parties in a payment transaction efficiently and with a high level of confidence is critical to the ongoing safety and soundness of the U.S. payments system. We have intensified our focus over the last two years, including holding a forum on the topic in mid-2013. The Forum has also just released a working paper that explores the challenges and potential solutions of customer authentication.

The working paper examines the evolution of customer authentication methods from the early days of identifying someone visually to the present environment of using biometrics. The paper reviews each method regarding its process, advantages and disadvantages, and applicability to the payments environment.

Much of the paper looks at biometrics, an authentication method that has received increased attention over the last year—partly because smartphones keep getting smarter as folks keep adding new applications, and as manufacturers keep improving microphones, cameras, accelerometers, touch sensors, and more.

The table lays out six key characteristics that we can use to evaluate a biometric system for a particular application.

New_characteristics_table

The use of biometrics will be the subject of an upcoming forum hosted by the Retail Payments Research Forum later this fall, so stay tuned as we finalize the date and agenda. In the meantime, if you have any comments or questions about the working paper, please let us know.

Photo of David Lott By David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

May 4, 2015 in authentication, biometrics, emerging payments, innovation, mobile banking, mobile payments, risk management | Permalink

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March 23, 2015


Balancing Security and Friction

Several weeks ago, my colleague, Dave Lott, wrote a post addressing the question "Does More Security Mean More Friction in Payments?" Having had several weeks to ponder this concept while attending multiple payments conferences and participating in similar discussions, I can say that I believe that securing payments does mean more friction. Friction may not be seen as good for commerce, but it can be good for security. An enormous challenge that those in the payments industry face is determining the right balance of friction and security. This challenge is heightened since consumers have a range of choices in payment types, yet do not often bear financial liability for fraudulent transactions.

It is absolutely critical to secure the enrollment or provisioning of the payment instrument on the front end. However, this introduces friction before a payment transaction is even attempted. And if consumers deem the process too onerous, they can reject that payment instrument or seek alternative providers. The recent media coverage of fraud occurring through Apple Pay highlights the challenge in the onboarding process. Consumers and pundits have raved about the ease of provisioning a card to their Apple Pay wallet through what they already have on file with iTunes. But fraudsters have taken advantage of this easy onboarding process. I should stress that this isn't just a mobile payments or Apple Pay problem—fraudsters are well-versed in opening bank accounts, credit cards, and other payment instruments using synthetic or stolen identities.

Let's assume that a person's payment credentials are in fact legitimate. Verifying that legitimacy introduces more friction into the payment process. A transaction that requires no verification obviously comes with the least friction, but it is the riskiest. Signatures and PINs bring a small amount of friction to the process, with very different results in terms of fraud losses. We don't know yet what kind of friction, if any, different biometric solutions create during both provisioning and the transaction. Issuers must enable the various forms of verification, and it is up to the merchants to implement solutions that will use various verification methods. Yet consumers, who bear less of the risk of financial loss from fraudulent transactions than the merchants, can choose which payment method, and sometimes which verification method, to use—and they often do so according to the amount of friction involved, with little to no regard for the security.

Issuers and merchants will offer the right balance of friction and security based on the risks they are willing to take and the investments they make in security processes and solutions. But it is the consumer who will ultimately decide just by accepting or rejecting the options. With limited or no financial liability, consumers are often willing to trade off security in favor of less friction—and the financial institutions and merchants have to bear the losses. So I'll ask our Take On Payments readers, how do you balance friction and security in this environment?

Photo of Douglas King By Douglas A. King, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed


March 23, 2015 in biometrics, consumer fraud, identity theft | Permalink

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February 2, 2015


Does More Security Mean More Friction in Payments?

In a 2014 post, we discussed the issue of consumers' security practices in light of the regulatory liability protection provided to consumers, especially related to electronic transactions. Recognizing that poor security practices will continue, financial institutions, merchants, and solution vendors continue to implement additional security and fraud deterrence tools in the payment flow. Sometimes those tools can add complexity to a financial transaction.

One of the critical elements in a consumer's experience when performing a financial transaction is the concept of friction. In the payments environment, friction can be measured by the number and degree of barriers that impede a smooth and successful transaction flow. Potential causes of friction in a payment transaction include lack of acceptance, slow speed, inaccuracy, high cost, numerous steps, and lack of reliability. We usually think that to decrease friction is to increase convenience.

As the level of friction increases, consumers become more likely to rethink their purchase and payment decisions—an action that merchants and financial institutions alike dread because an abandoned payment transaction represents lost revenue. Individual consumers have their preferred payment methods, and their perspective of the convenience associated with a particular method is a key factor in their choice. For this reason, the payment industry stakeholders have been working diligently to reduce the level of friction in the various forms of payments. Technology provides a number of advantages, potentially reducing the overall friction of payments by providing consumers with a variety of payment form factors. For example, smartphones can support integrated payment applications allowing the consumer to easily call up their payment credentials and execute a payment transaction at a merchant's terminal. With abandonment rates as high as 68 percent, online merchants, working diligently to reduce friction, are streamlining their checkout process by reducing the number of screens to navigate.

Clearly cognizant of the friction issue, the industry has focused much of its efforts on operating fraud risk tools in the background, so that customers remain unaware of them. Other tools are more overt—biometrics on mobile phones, hardware tokens for PCs, and transaction alerts. But some security improvements the industry has undertaken have resulted in more friction, including the EMV card. A consumer must now leave the EMV card in the terminal for the duration of the transaction when previously all the consumer had to do was simply swipe the card. It will be interesting to see if and how consumers adjust their payment habits should they view the EMV card technology as high in friction. Will this motivate consumers to move away from card-based payments? Time will tell, and we will closely follow this issue.

Photo of David LottBy David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed


February 2, 2015 in biometrics, chip-and-pin, EMV, innovation, payments | Permalink

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David,
You've touched upon an important continuing battle. The balancing act of maximizing conversion vs. maximizing security/fraud prevention can be a real conundrum. It impacts revenue and can even divide offices. It comes down to what your product/service is, what your appetite for risk is, and what tools you have in place. It is important though for financial institutions and ecommerce companies to seek out new technology solutions to maximize security and not be stagnant with the status quo.

Posted by: Logan | February 3, 2015 at 07:46 PM

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October 14, 2014


Mobile Biometrics: Ready or Not, Here They Come

Apple's recent announcement about the release of its mobile wallet app—called Apple Pay—energized the mobile payments community. One reason for the spike of interest is Apple Pay's use of fingerprint biometrics as an additional layer of security in validating customers and their transactions. What may have gotten a little a little lost in the chatter that followed this announcement was another, related announcement. As reported in a September 19 FinExtra story, MasterCard (MC) announced it had completed a pilot project that used a combination of facial and voice recognition on a smartphone. MC said that the trial program—which involved MC employees around the globe conducting 14,000 transactions—had a successful validation rate of 98 percent.

The Apple and MC announcements together certainly show that the future of the additional security options on smartphones looks promising. As a recent post noted, consumer research has consistently found that consumers' largest concern about using mobile phones for financial transactions is security. But are biometric technologies ready for prime time? Will their application in the payments ecosystem really give payment providers more confidence that the person they are dealing with is not an imposter?

The latest generations of Apple and Android smartphones are equipped with fingerprint scanners, cameras, and microphones, which allow for the use of fingerprint, voice, and facial recognition. But limitations exist for each of the techniques. The Apple and Android fingerprint readers, for example, were compromised within days of their initial release. And facial and voice recognition applications work best in controlled conditions of lighting and with limited background noise—an unlikely environment for a smartphone user on the go.

But security experts agree that additional customer authentication methodologies—beyond the common user ID and password entry fields—increase the overall authenticity of transactions. Numerous companies are continuing to focus their research and development efforts on improving the reliability and use of their authentication products. So while there is no "one size fits all" authentication solution over the weak and easily compromised ID-and-password method, these biometric methods represent a step forward, and are likely to improve over time.

The Retail Payments Risk Forum is taking a close look at biometrics technology and its impact on the payments system. We are working on a paper assessing biometrics and authentication methodologies that will probably be released by the end of the year. We're planning a forum to be held this upcoming spring on mobile authentication technologies. And we're continuing to write posts on the topic in Portals and Rails.

Please feel free to contact us with your suggestions on biometric issues you would like to see us address in our continuing efforts.

Lott_david_01 By David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

 

October 14, 2014 in authentication, biometrics, innovation, mobile banking | Permalink

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September 8, 2014


Seeking a Successful Biometric Solution

As an earlier post noted, advances in technology have spurred the implementation of various biometric authentication methodologies in the consumer market. But as people are discovering, not all methodologies are equally suited for all applications. Those who are implementing such applications have to consider risk level, cost, operating environment, and targeted population. They also have to evaluate a number of other factors to determine if a particular biometric is better suited than another for an intended application. These factors include but are not limited to:

  • Uniqueness. While the biometric doesn't always have to be unique to every individual on the planet, the probability that two people share a particular characteristic should be unlikely enough to prevent an unacceptable number of false acceptances (when one person is wrongly authenticated as another). For example, fingerprints are considered to be unique to every individual, but current smartphone fingerprint readers have such low-resolution scanners that the possibility of a false acceptance is one in 44,000. This rate is most likely sufficient for many applications, but a high-dollar transaction may require supplemental authentication.
  • Universality. The targeted characteristic must be present in the overall population, with only a few exceptions. Only a couple of biometric elements, such as DNA and facial recognition, can provide complete population coverage. Hand geometry and vein recognition, for example, won't work on people who are missing fingers or other body parts.
  • Permanence. The characteristic should not change over time. Even though people can alter almost any physical characteristic through medical procedures, the possibility of such alteration to the characteristic being considered for biometric authentication should be infrequent among the population—and the alteration procedure should be relatively expensive.
  • Collection ease. The more invasive the collection of the biometric sample, the more resistance people will have to it. People tend to view facial and voice recognition and fingerprinting as noninvasive but retinal scans as highly invasive—a light beam scans the back of the person's eye, which can be very uncomfortable.
  • Performance. The biometric element must support the creation of a template that is accurate and quickly obtained while also providing minimal database storage requirements. A system that takes a long time to authenticate someone during peak usage periods will encounter user dissatisfaction and possibly decreased productivity.
  • Accuracy. Individuals should not be able to fool the system. Fingerprint readers should verify that the right fingerprints belong to the right person, that a spoken phrase is live and not recorded, and so on.
  • User-embraced. Even when people have to use certain biometric authentication systems as a condition of their employment, the technology should be one that has a high level of acceptance, with minimal cultural, religious, collective bargaining, or regulatory implications.
  • Cost-effectiveness. As with all risk management practices, the cost of implementing and operating the system must be commensurate with the risk exposure for using a less secure authentication system.

As you consider the possibility of implementing a biometric authentication methodology for your customers, I hope you will find these evaluation elements helpful.

Photo of David LottBy David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

September 8, 2014 in authentication, biometrics, innovation | Permalink

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August 11, 2014


Improving Mobile Security with Biometrics

During the last year, the release of two smartphones with fingerprint readers by two different manufacturers was met with a lot of excitement. People in the payments industry were keen on the ability of the new phones to better authenticate mobile payments. Fingerprints are one of several biometric methods used today to supplement passwords.

Fingerprint

Biometrics refers to techniques that use measurable physical characteristics that lend themselves to automated checking techniques. In addition to fingerprints and vein recognition, biometrics can include voice, facial, and iris recognition, and even DNA matching, among others.

As the Federal Reserve's report Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2014 noted, consumers' security concerns are a big barrier to the adoption of mobile banking. Mobile proponents believe this barrier can be reduced with the additional security features that mobile phones can provide, along with consumer education. There is no question that the mobile phone offers a number of ways to authenticate the user more positively, using both overt and covert methods. One well-known covert option is the smartphone's geolocation function, which allows verification that the phone is in the location it's supposed to be. Another covert method is "device fingerprinting," whereby a number of digital characteristics about the consumer's phone can be captured and used to verify that the phone being used is the one originally registered.

The most common overt biometric methods being tested today are fingerprint and facial recognition. While only a small number of mobile phones in use today in the United States have fingerprint readers, the vast majority have a camera that could support a facial recognition application. Both of these biometric methods are minimally invasive.

The key difference between biometric verification and user ID and password verification creates the greatest challenge for implementing biometrics authentication: with passwords, unless there is a 100 percent match between the data on file and the data the user enters in trying to gain access, the request is automatically rejected. It may be the legitimate user trying to gain access but maybe he or she forgot the password. Nevertheless, the system rules block access until the user's identity can be authenticated through some other means. On the other hand, the nature of biometrics is such that a 100 percent match between the stored template value and the live template value is rare—possibly because of differences in lighting conditions or angles when biometric measurements are made, or differences between readers, or some other reason. To deal with this gap, the manager of each application has to determine an acceptable accuracy level for both false-positives (whereby a party incorrectly matched is authorized) and false-negatives (whereby the authentic party is denied access). Naturally, false-positives pose the greater threat. False-negatives generally just involve some level of inconvenience until the individual can be authenticated and provided access.

No matter what biometric authentication methodology a system uses, the most important step is validating each customer's biometrics upon enrollment in the program. We will discuss this issue and other challenges for biometric programs in future issues of Portals and Rails.

 

Photo of Douglas A. KingBy Dave Lott, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

August 11, 2014 in authentication, biometrics, innovation, mobile payments | Permalink

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Dave,
PKI based digital certificates can also be used to secure mobile devices and provide a far more reliable means of device ID than geolocation or device fingerprinting

Posted by: Doug Parr | August 19, 2014 at 08:48 AM

When considering usability of biometric authentication on a mobile phone, there is no more "minimally invasive" method than voice biometrics. These devices are first and foremost voice-enabled.

Posted by: Brian Moore | August 12, 2014 at 01:00 PM

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