Biometrics Gives Schools Easy, Secure Identification

A new school year is here. This means books, classes, study groups, and - of course - security. With the rise of the digital era, various methods of fraud have become an increasing concern for schools around the world. Clever hackers sometimes create fake students, using those fake students to steal from the government and other lenders. In a more traditional form of fraud, students may pay someone to take a test they have not studied for in order to get a better grade.

student on computer

Biometrics in U.S. Schools

Due to privacy concerns, biometrics in the United States is a matter of considerable controversy. While other countries, especially the U.K. and India, have eagerly embraced biometrics, the movement has suffered some snags on the way.

That said, biometrics use is definitely on the rise worldwide, including in some American universities. After all, biometrics offers considerable advantages compared with other forms of authentication. Where passwords can always be hacked eventually, biometric data is difficult if not entirely impossible to fake, especially with ongoing improvements in biometric scanners. Someone could find out your password, for example, but they will never have your eyes.

Biometric Devices and Methods

1. Facial Recognition. Due to the amount of data required to store and compare facial features, effective facial recognition technology tends to be more expensive to implement. Even the most expensive software solutions may have issues correctly identifying someone, especially if they have changed facial features in any way, such as wearing glasses or a scarf. In addition, several states have passed laws limiting the use of this particular technology due to privacy concerns. While the technology is available, schools generally opt for other options, of which there are several.

2. Iris Scans. At this point in history, most students are likely already familiar with iris scans, because most of the latest smart phones have this technology built into them. Schools like the University of Georgia use simple iris scans in order to identify students while giving them hands-free access to their school accounts. All they need to do is look at the device, authenticate their identity, and place cafeteria food orders, buy books, and so on. For schools with secure intranets in place, these devices require minimal installation and data storage costs.

3. Fingerprint Identification. Like iris scans, most students will be comfortable with fingerprint scanners, because swipe to unlock is a common feature of smartphones. Fingerprint scanners are also relatively cheap and easy to install. Like iris scanners, fingerprint scanners can reliably identify a particular student and then give that student access to their account. One of the benefits of iris scanning is that it is hands-free, but fingerprint identification may make it easier to get a good reading.

4. Handwriting Analysis. Just as banks have long used signature cards to verify clients, schools like Central Texas College use handwritten passcodes. Like many schools, Central Texas offers distance learning courses, where it can be all too easy for students to have their identities stolen or otherwise misused. Handwriting tests compare the precise way in which students write a particular passphrase, having initially verified their identity before loading the original. This particular form of biometric authentication requires no additional hardware apart from what is needed for data storage. All that schools and students need is a touchscreen and a finger or pen.

5. Multi-factor Authentication. Naturally, no security method works in a vacuum. Because schools tend to have limited budgets and busy students, generally they choose one method in a context, for example, iris scanning the school cafeteria for hands-free identification while buying lunch. However, biometrics together with a single-sign on environment can be problematic for anything more secure. For example, students looking to buy lunch should not have to worry that the next person in line could access their transcripts and medical records. As such, colleges using biometrics are generally careful to ensure that each person is who they say they are and to limit their access to what is appropriate for that person at that time.

Multi-factor authentication includes multiple forms of identification. It also includes key biometrics such as patterns of behavior. Is someone trying to access school transcripts in the cafeteria line? Is this something they normally do? Multi-factor authentication can even include other forms of biometrics not discussed above, such as gait and voice analysis. As biometrics continues to become a key part of school security, multifactor authentication will likely increase.

Future of Biometrics in Schools

Two issues drive biometrics in schools, and will likely affect the future shape of this technology: academic integrity and financial fraud. As students become increasingly comfortable with technology, as biometric scanner costs continue to come down, and as more students use distance learning, biometrics is certain to become increasingly necessary. As this technology becomes more popular, it will continue to be work in concert with more traditional forms of identification, such as government-issued ID cards. Now and in the future, security is paramount. Schools that use biometric identification will need to take care to secure this information, especially as more businesses begin to use this data for their own purposes.

Want to learn more about the future of biometrics?