14 December 2004

e-Security in Online Banking

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“You can always try to steal my PIN code or my visa card, but you cannot steal my face or my voice. Biometrics is a way of proving that I am myself”

With Internet access and a credit card you can buy almost anything online. But before typing in your credit card number and PIN code, you might ask yourself the question: “Is there a risk of anyone stealing my details?” The European BANCA project helps avoid such scenarios by using face and voice information as your password for ‘smart cards’. In this way data security and confidentiality are guaranteed.

“You can always try to steal my PIN code or my visa card, but you cannot steal my face or my voice. Biometrics is a way of proving that I am myself”, comments Sylvain Surcin, the Project Manager of Banca. With this project, your bank provides you with a smart card containing information about your facial and vocal features. To perform online banking operations, you insert this visa card into the card reader provided by your bank that is plugged into your computer. In a few seconds you are redirected to the BANCA server, which uses your own web cam and computer's microphone to take a picture and voice sample from you. Further access then depends on the matching of these features with those stored in the card.

With this new technology, ten European research teams have achieved three important things. First of all, they are ensuring communication between your workstation and the server. Secondly, they secure your personal feature data, as no one can access the remote database in your smart card. Thirdly, the integration of data about both your face and voice reduces room for error in the recognition phase.

Show me your face and speak to me
Facial recognition technology identifies people by analysing robust features of the face. “We take specific points of the face; eyes, forehead, nose and lip shape. We measure the distance between your eyes, between your eye and nose, between your forehead and lips, and so on. We calculate the proportions by means of vectors. When we want to compare two faces, we cross-merge them and then compare the measurement figures. If they are quite similar, then we accept them,” explains Mr. Surcin.

Voice recognition exploits the physiological differences in the shape of vocal tracts and acquired speech habits to discriminate between speakers. The user has to repeat a standard sentence three times on a microphone, giving their name as well as their birth date and birthplace. The intonation is then recorded as a password.

Safe and gentle biometrics
The practical application of this cutting-edge technology is a European project being conducted within the biometric field. Biometrics is an automated method of recognizing a person based on physiological or behavioural characteristics. Among the features that can be used for identification are; the face, fingerprints, hand geometry, handwriting, the iris, the retina, veins, and the voice.

According to Mr Surcin “A biometric system is never infallible. For example, fingerprints can easily be lifted and duplicated, and they must also be completely clean to be recognizable. In contrast, the most secure methods - DNA or iris recognition - are too intrusive to be acceptable to users. People are often scared to give blood or to have a laser directed in the eye”. That is why Banca is using the system that it is. Both facial and voice recognition make it almost impossible for a hacker to get through the security system. A range of new applications could soon be found in retail, law enforcement, and health and social services throughout Europe.

 

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