Fingerprints for Online Shopping? Keeping our online data secure

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“Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”

The security of our data online has become a major issue in recent years. with more and more companies advertising and allowing customers to purchase online, sensitive information such as bank details are becoming more susceptible to security breaches. with the majority of us sharing details of our lives (our pictures, date of birth and location), if these sites are hacked, we face serious risks of identity fraud, or worse. Since Kickstarter has become the latest high-profile case of hacking, businesses need to find a way to adapt to online security threats.

Recently, Tesco had to suspend the online accounts of more than 2,000 customers after their login details were obtained by hackers and shared. Crowdfunding website, Kickstarter, was also hit by cyber attacking, compromising the security of people’s personal data. Whilst these online sites have proven vulnerable to security breaches, there is also a problem with customers using weak passwords (SplashData published a report finding that the most common password online was ‘123456’) and not alternating their passwords on different online accounts.

These aren’t just isolated incidents, with huge companies like Google, Sony,  Microsoft and Twitter having also been targeted in the past. So, with so many high-profile hacks and usernames and passwords compromised, are these companies investing in a solution?

Already in use by 5% of organisations, Biometric technology is being hailed as the step forward away from the traditional username and password. This week, Google acquired a small Israeli-company, SlickLogin. Their technology replaces usernames and passwords with high-frequency sound waves. So, a site that adopts this technology would play the ultrasonic sound through your computer’s speakers that can be picked up by a smart phone, which then confirms your identity.

Technology companies are also considering biometric technologies when designing mobile phones, with speculation that the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S5 will have a fingerprint censor. The owner would register their fingerprint and be able to use it to unlock the device and various apps. Apple are also rumoured to be investing in iris scanning technology for their upcoming iPhone 6.

As useful as the technology may seem, the difficulty is deciding whether it should outright replace username and passwords, or used as another layer of protection. Fingerprints have not always been secure in the past and having to have your smartphone linked with a computer when you want to login online makes the process more work for the user. Is that worth the extra security benefits? To some, it could be, but to replace usernames and passwords entirely seems unnecessary. Creating strong passwords should definitely be considered by online users. You wouldn’t leave valuable jewellery or money in a safe that anybody could crack open, and the same principle applies online. Biometric technology could be the future, though. According to Gartner, nearly a third of organisations (30 per cent) will use biometric authentication for mobile devices by 2016. The technology to do this is already in place, but the user experience should also be kept in mind before making this dramatic switch.

  1. http://www.itpro.co.uk/security/21559/nearly-a-third-of-businesses-to-use-biometrics-by-2016#ixzz2tlVZc3ke
  2. http://www.macrumors.com/2014/01/21/apple-iris-scanning/
  3. http://splashdata.com/press/worstpasswords2013.htm
  4. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/feb/24/galaxy-s5-samsung-bets-on-fitness-and-fingerprint-sensors-to-beat-apple
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