Apple iPhone 5S: The Watershed Moment for Biometric Authentication … and why Liveness Detection Matters

In his presentation to the October 2013 Biometric Consortium Conference, Dr. Joseph Atick of Identity Counsel International described the introduction of the Apple iPhone 5S as a “watershed moment” for the biometrics industry. Moreover, in reviewing a sampling of commentaries and press releases from industry observers and stakeholders like the European Association of Biometrics, the Biometrics Institute and others, it would appear numerous other people share Dr. Atick’s assessment.

We couldn’t agree more with Dr. Atick and the chorus of industry observers sharing his opinion. Personally, I would add that this moment applies equally to liveness detection – the ability for biometric authentication systems to identify and mitigate spoofing attacks.

Dr. Atick’s presentation discussed how personal identity is becoming “mobile and transactional,” and that the key element to the biometric value proposition is in securing mobile commerce transactions and managing online identity in a highly convenient manner … just “click and go.” Such convenience is tipping the balance away from pin/password-based authentication and toward biometrics. This in turn should facilitate more pervasive development of secure mobile applications in such industries as banking, healthcare and, of course, mobile commerce. And liveness detection goes from being the “elephant in the room” to a critical element to any biometric mobile security solution.

Like others, I believe it is both the immense scale of the iPhone 5S adoption and its introduction of biometrics to the consumer market that make it a watershed / paradigm-shift moment. According to Sebastien Taveau, Chief Evangelist at Synaptics’ Biometric Product Division, the daily volume of iPhone 5S shipments approximates the monthly volume of sensor shipments of former leading sensor manufacturers Validity Sensors and Authentec combined. Accordingly, the iPhone 5S is considered one of the largest ever deployments of biometric sensors, and clearly demarcates the recent hockey stick curve in the industry’s unit volume shipments.

Literally overnight, fingerprint-sensor manufacturers have an entirely new market landscape to lay claim to. That landscape, of course, is the non-iOS field of mobile devices. With Apple’s acquisition of Authentec removing one of the top sensor manufacturers from the fray, the subsequent iPhone 5S introduction then reshuffled the remaining sensor industry leadership by vaulting mobile device compatible sensors into the highest levels of demand. Validity (now Synaptics), Fingerprint Cards AB, IDEX and others offering such sensors are now scrambling to secure as many design wins as possible to help Android and Microsoft mobile devices to catch up with the iPhone 5S. And given the aggressive valuations of these companies (relative to more traditional sensor/scanner companies), the expected consumer adoption of mobile biometric authentication appears enormous.

Accompanying the iPhone 5S are other occurrences and trends that should only leverage and magnify this moment in biometrics history. The establishment of the FIDO Alliance will facilitate standards of interoperability among biometric authentication solutions as they quickly proliferate in the market. The trend of enterprise policies toward BYOD (bring your own device) is another driver in the adoption of mobile biometric security. And in the background for some time now has been NFC (near field connectivity), waiting for enhancements to mobile device security so as to speed up adoption of its application to mobile commerce at retail points of sale.

At NexID, we look forward to playing our part in enabling the pervasive use of mobile biometric authentication with new liveness detection solutions targeting this space. Look for more news on these solutions later in Q1.