Onfido: Biometrics Build A More Accessible And Inclusive Financial Future

With the right tools, a trained locksmith can open a locked door in a matter of seconds. But the ease and speed with which this most basic of security systems is penetrated is as alarming to the lay person as it is a telling example of how swiftly professional hackers can access consumers’ personal data that is presumed to be protected.

It’s an analogy, Onfido Chief Strategy Officer Yuelin Li told PYMNTS, that vividly illustrates the gap that exists between cybersecurity perception and reality.

The lesson for security professionals, she said, is that not all friction is bad — that if things are flowing too swiftly consumers start to worry if they are actually safe.

It’s a reaction that also shows up in the varying levels of comfort that different demographics feel when presented with something like providing a selfie as part of a biometric verification.

Nearly half of millennials and so-called bridge millennials favor the ubiquitous selfie as an authentication method (49 percent and 46 percent respectively), compared to about 23 percent of baby boomers and seniors, OnFido’s data show — a gulf largely accounted for in exposure levels.

“What we’ve also found is that for those who are familiar with using biometrics as a means to authenticate themselves, 82.3 percent saw that as very secure, which was lots more than all of the other methods that people commonly use,” Li said, adding that the digital image method far exceeded passwords, knowledge-based authentication and multi-factor ID questionnaires.

It’s an “exposure thing” overall, she said: once people become exposed to it and use it, they realize it is both more secure and easier to use than the alternatives. The challenge that the industry faces as a whole, she said, is making sure that exposure and benefit can be discovered equally well by all who want to leverage them.

Harnessing The Power Of The Selfie

The need for leveled-up biometric authentication, Li said, has been created by a world where consumers have needed digital options for everything — options they can access safely and without fear of feeding fraudsters. The selfie-biometric, she said, creates a situation that makes the fraudsters’ stolen data useless because it forces consumers to “bring the right face” to a transaction making them much tougher to scale.

While cyber criminals try to get around this, using pictures of pictures, she noted, the artificial intelligence (AI) is getting better by the day in spotting those tricks and “seeing” the difference between a picture of a picture and a picture of an actual living person.

“Also, the biometric verification itself can actually capture if it’s the same person trying to go into an account multiple times. It is particularly helpful when you combine it with a photo ID, because you’re adding another layer, which is a genuine document,” Li said.

More than just halting fraud attempts in progress, it deters them from happening at all, she said, since once a selfie or other biometric request is requested, fraudsters tend to simply move on to an easier target.

Ridesharing companies, for example, that put selfie authentication as a step in their process scared off something like 71 percent of fraud attempts.

But as powerful as this offering is, she noted, not everyone is going to want to use it.

“As a business, you really do need to provide other flows or backups for that case. Older generations aren’t so comfortable with doing everything like this online,” Li said.

Building For inclusivity And Accessibility

Innovations like selfie authentication, Li told PYMNTS, can do amazing things, but only if they ever actually get into consumer hands. For example, some people still don’t use a smartphone, she noted, while other bias and blind spots that people carry have a way of being inadvertently hard-coded into the tools and technology we create to solve problems.

And that bias, she noted, won’t fix itself, but will be the collective effort of a lot of players to make sure that innovations to improve the common good — like security tech — actually work for everyone who might want to use them.

“Businesses and governments are much more aware of questions like is this fair? Is this inclusive? Is everyone being able to get equal access to the flow? And we definitely see that urgency has been escalated by COVID,” she said.

Because building better, she said, is more than a technological challenge, but a social one as well — making sure when the market moves forward, everyone is in position to move forward together.