Interview: Aware’s David Benini
17 July 2015 17:16 GMT

Biometrics software firm Aware has made waves in recent months by tackling emerging markets and by introducing solutions that have the scalability required to deliver biometric and next-generation identity services to sizeable populations.

Planet Biometrics' Deputy Editor, Craig Guthrie, caught up with David Benini, VP of market, to uncover insights about Aware’s strategy in regions such as Latin America and to discuss his views on the “fourth wave” of biometrics adoption.

CG: How do you explain the high rate of adoption of biometrics in Latin America and how does it benefit the market? 

DB: Several Latin American countries were early adopters of biometrics for civil applications back when most countries used them only for law enforcement.  So the populace tends to be educated about biometrics and accustomed to their use.

This familiarity enables innovative applications of biometrics to gain support and adoption; examples are the use of government-owned data to offer biometric verification services to the private sector, and a bank consortium providing biometric identity proofing services to its member institutions. In addition, public-private partnerships (PPP) are a more common structure for funding and implementing complex, integrated civil systems.

Overall, there tends to be a more collaborative approach.  

Furthermore, in parts of Latin America the scale of the financial fraud problem is more severe than in other regions, where it might be considered unacceptably costly but nevertheless under control.

In contrast, financial fraud in Latin America is sufficiently pervasive that it can tend to impede business activity and government services, so its real costs to the economy are higher than those directly attributable to the fraud itself. 

For these reasons, governments, businesses, and consumers alike are more inclined than their counterparts in other regions to contribute in concert to measures that combat financial crime and fraud. There’s broad recognition of biometrics as a powerful tool to do so, and openness to innovative programs that promise to use them to their potential.

CG: How can Latin American firms and governments address fraud with biometrics?

DB: A key way that fraud will be addressed in Latin America is through broad implementation of  biometric identity proofing schemes. Biometric authentication as a password replacement or enhancement mechanism is effective in inhibiting fraudulent access, but a broader impact on crime prevention is limited by the fact that it proves only that a person is the same who first enrolled; it does not detect duplicate (fraudulent) enrolments or identify an enrolee misrepresenting themselves.

In contrast, identity proofing is a process by which the identity of an individual is thoroughly verified in person by a trusted party upon enrolment, such as part of an employment screening or customer on-boarding process. This process includes a biometric search that can identify known fraudsters before they are given credentials and prevent them from establishing fraudulent identities in a system.

Once high-quality, biometrics are collected and vetted through this process, they can then be used for biometric authentication with a higher degree of trust. Biometric identity proofing and authentication utilizing “identity-proofed” biometric data promises to be critical elements of identity theft prevention efforts in Latin America in the near future.    

CG: What are the unique innovations that are seeing interest there, and that you believe might spread further afield, perhaps to Asia or even Europe and the US?

DB: “Biometrics as a service” will likely emerge as a key element of this fraud prevention landscape in Latin America. In contrast to biometric authentication, identity proofing requires high-quality biometric enrolment and a one-to-many search of a potentially large biometric database.  So from an implementation standpoint, it is a more substantial undertaking than biometric password enhancement schemes. For firms and government agencies wanting to implement biometric identity proofing but hesitant to make the investment, a subscription or pay-per-use service model is an attractive option.

It enables access to robust biometric identity proofing and authentication capabilities without installing and maintaining their own bespoke systems. Latin America will likely be the first region to see true biometrics as a service adopted by mass markets on a large scale. Security services companies and others will offer biometric identity proofing and authentication services to government agencies as well as private firms including banks, retailers, healthcare providers, and telephone companies.

These organizations can then implement employee- and customer-facing biometric security measures on a subscription or pay-per-use basis, using one or more biometric modalities for authentication depending on the required security level. This model will accelerate adoption and maturation of the technology, and the lessons learned from that achievement will benefit future deployments in other regions. 

CG: Can you explain the benefits of cluster computing for biometrics databases? Is this the kind of solution for markets like Latin America?

DB: Cluster computing is nothing new, but Aware’s new Astra cluster computing platform is somewhat unique in the biometrics arena. It utilizes a leading open source cluster computing framework used and supported by thousands of companies to achieve scalable, fault-tolerant, cloud-friendly computing for a diverse variety of applications by distributing computing tasks across a large number of computing nodes or a cloud. Astra is highly optimized for biometric search and authentication, enabling rapid search of very large biometric databases and high volumes of authentications.

And it is designed to be algorithm agnostic, so it can run different biometric matching algorithms and modalities. It is also available as a commercial off-the-shelf software product.  We expect Astra to play a role in achieving the scalability required to deliver biometric services to mass markets as is happening in Latin America, while offering the algorithm flexibility that is increasingly demanded.

CG: Do you expect demand for these kinds of solutions to grow as biometrics are increasingly linked to the digital identities being offered by companies and governments?

DB: The first wave of growth for biometrics came in the 1990s from demand for law enforcement solutions.  The second came in the 2000s for border control, defence, and related security requirements due to new terrorism threats. Today we are in the midst of a third wave of growth derived from mass-market adoption of smart phones equipped with biometric sensors used for a password enhancement.  And yes, I expect a fourth wave of growth to come from biometrics used to enhance unique identifiers. Ongoing mass-market adoption for authentication will help dispel the perception of biometrics as a privacy liability. Rather, biometrics will be increasingly recognized more accurately as a privacy asset that can be used to ensure our unique identifiers are in fact issued uniquely (one per person) and then to prevent their fraudulent use.  

In this way, biometrics will emerge an essential tool to combat identity theft at its source and suppress derivative opportunities to commit fraud.

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