Voice biometrics – The myths debunked!

There is a growing appetite for biometric authentication across the continent. Nearly two thirds of consumers want to use biometrics when making payments according to research by Visa Europe, which also revealed that familiarity with biometric forms is one of the most important factors for adoption.

This may indicate why 81 per cent of consumers think that fingerprint recognition – ubiquitous on mobile devices and mobile payment services such as Apple Pay - is the most secure form of biometric authentication, followed by iris scanning – used for years at airports – at 76 per cent.

Speech authentication is lagging behind, named the preferred biometric form for only 8 per cent of British consumers. Indeed, despite being one of the most secure authentication methods, fewer customers have experienced or understand speech authentication and this lack of awareness has allowed some common myths and misconceptions about the security of the technology to flourish.

However, with more companies such as HSBC, TalkTalk and Barclays choosing voice biometrics to provide a safer, more seamless authentication experience for their customers, it is clear it will become more ingrained in our everyday lives. Indeed, the global biometrics market is expected to grow to $44.2 billion by 2021 – a significant increase from $7 billion in 2014.

So, we are taking a look at some of the common concerns that are currently affecting consumer confidence, and will be debunking those myths.

Myth 1: What if someone overhears my password? 

For over 20 years, security professionals have been telling people to “never give out your username and password - or else, very bad things will happen.” So saying your password aloud to login using voice biometrics may seem counter intuitive for the security-savvy customer.

But with voice biometrics leveraging more than 100 unique speech characteristics, the word is no longer the password. Rather, the password is a characteristic of the voiceprint (which is just as individual as a fingerprint) - and even that is separated into physical and behavioural differences.

Physical characteristics include the size and shape of your nasal passage, your voice tract or even how your mouth moves. Whereas an accent, pronunciation, pitch or even how fast you talk, make up behavioural recognition. That’s why no one could steal your account information simply by hearing you say your password or passphrase.

Myth 2: What if someone impersonates my voice? 

No matter how great the impersonator, each voice print is unique. This was recently demonstrated when WIRED Magazine compared celebrity voices with an impersonator. The results showed no matter how similar an impersonator may sound, voice biometric technology can determine who holds the key to the account.

Myth 3: What if I have a cold? Will I be able to login to my account? 

Another common fear is what if my primary form of authentication falters? What if I lose my voice? What if I move abroad and my accent changes? In fact, a crucial advantage of voice biometric technology is that it captures and analyses almost every aspect of your voice, so even the average person with a cold is more likely to be successfully authenticated (94 per cent) than using a PIN or password (40-60 per cent).

In fact, a leading financial institution in the United States has achieved a 99.6 per cent success rate on an annual volume surpassing 20 million voice biometric verifications.

When the facts come to light, it is no surprise that so many large companies, including Barclays, Manulife, TalkTalk and Santander, are starting to adopt voice biometrics for authenticating sensitive information. Voice biometrics holds the potential for greater security and a better customer experience. And when combined with other forms of biometric security, such as facial recognition, the potential for organisations to conduct multi-factor authentication without requiring the customer to remember a single password or PIN will revolutionise how we authenticate ourselves.

Myth 4: Can hackers access my voice print? 

As ever, the threat of hackers looms with fears of who can access personal information. No form of identification, whether that be pins, passwords, finger identification, voice biometrics or facial recognition software, is 100 per cent secure from hackers obtaining and abusing an individual’s personal identification and personal data.

The advantage for voice biometrics over other forms of authentication is that even if a hacker steals the recorded voice, playback detection technology can test incoming audio to see if it represents live speech or if it is fraudulent. Infiniti Research estimates that voice biometrics can address 90 per cent of fraud in a voice channel, as well as 80 percent of fraud in a mobile channel. So with hackers on the prowl, your data is safer with voice biometrics.

Myth 5: I can’t change my password! 

While it forever remains your voice, speech authentication is a dynamic biometric credential, meaning it is constantly able to evolve, opposed to fingerprints or iris authentication which is a static biometric credential, meaning there is very little variability available.

To put this into perspective, a fingerprint has a maximum of ten possible credentials, and an iris has only two. When comparing this with voice biometrics, the number has no limit. It is by knowing the specifics of voice biometric authentication that you retain so much power in the sound of your voice.

Myths and speculation surround most new technologies – and as cyber breaches become ever more common and reported on in the press, it is only natural that consumers will be especially cautious of unknown solutions that they fear will put their personal data at risk.

However, with the exceptional security credentials of this technology, voice biometrics is set to revolutionise how companies authenticate their customers and secure sensitive information – while simultaneously enhancing the entire experience.

Sebastian Reeve, Director Product Management, Nuance Communications

Image source: Shutterstock/Carlos Amarillo