A look at the why, where, and how of adding biometrics to smartcards, for increased security in a wide range of applications.
How many times have you used a smartcard in the past week? If you’re like most people, the answer is quite a few. Today’s smartcards support everything from mass transit and building access to banking, commerce, entertainment, healthcare, civilian identification, and more. Market analysts have defined more than 40 application categories for smartcards, and billions of single- and multi-application smartcards are in use every day around the world.
This increased use has, naturally, led to increased concerns over security. Smartcards are typically protected by a two-factor authentication process that involves showing the card and then entering a password or PIN code. In some cases, though, this may not be enough to prevent fraud or misuse. Adding biometrics – the analysis of a physical or behavioral characteristic unique to each person – can make smartcard authentication even more secure. Biometrics can either replace traditional methods of authentication, such as tokens and passwords, or can be used in conjunction with these traditional methods, for an added level of security.
The advantage that biometrics have over other methods of authentication is that they’re unique to an individual and they’re something that is always with a person. They can’t be forgotten and they’re extremely difficult to share, lose, or steal. The person has to be physically present to supply a biometric sample, at the time of authentication, and this reduces the likelihood of fraud even further.
There are several biometrics, including fingerprint scans and handwritten PINs, that are suitable for use with smartcards, and there are various ways to implement biometrics in smartcard systems. Some of these methods are already in use, while others are still in the early stages of development. Figure 1 shows a biometric smartcard developed by NXP. It uses the cardholder’s handwriting as a biometric feature. The individual numbers of the PIN code are captured in the writer’s unique way of writing through the use of an integrated capacitive touchpad.
Our white paper, titled “Smartcards, security, and biometrics,” is a detailed look at the techniques best suited for use with smartcards. It presents the options for implementing biometrics in a smartcard system, and provides examples of real-world biometric smartcards, including the NXP implementation. Download your copy today.