Working from Wherever: 4 Ways Biometrics are Securing Working Life

May 4, 2020

Maria Pihlstrom, Global Marketing Manager at Fingerprints

In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has transformed day-to-day life. As remote working becomes a large-scale necessity, millions of employees around the world have swapped their daily chats at the coffee machine for virtual meetings in pajamas.

Although the immediate future remains unclear, these more flexible ways of working will no doubt endure beyond COVID-19. Remote working was increasing even before the pandemic, rising 140% since 2005, in large part due to the growing millennial workforce’s behavioral preferences for digital communication and flexibility. And the benefits are well-studied: people are more productive, more motivated and report a better work-life balance.

This steady evolution in working behavior was already creating the need for new and enhanced working practices. Undoubtedly however, the sudden mass shift to an agile workforce has put a more urgent spotlight on the need for more robust privacy solutions – both in and outside the office. Following a scramble to become operational remotely, companies that have made do with “patchwork access control and user authentication systems” are now reevaluating the risk and usability of their solutions to ensure teams can be more responsive and operate more securely in future.

As biometrics gathers momentum beyond smartphones, and access control and IoT use cases continue to expand, biometric authentication is shaping up to play a crucial role in empowering workplaces both physically and digitally. Here’s four ways in which biometrics can secure working life and create a more secure, smarter ‘office’ environment wherever you are.

  • Under lock and key

The first, and perhaps most obvious, way in which biometrics can secure workplaces is by using it to unlock physical doors or alarms to office buildings, manufacturing floors, or even private rooms and safes.

Traditional access control solutions are a source of constant worry and frustration for security personnel and employees alike. PIN entry not only offers a poor UX but requires close management, given its vulnerability to misuse and loss. Meanwhile, if an access fob or badge is lost or stolen, the security of a building is instantly compromised.

By adding biometric authentication to cards or fobs, employees need no longer worry about them falling into the wrong hands. Without the correct user to authenticate, access to business operations and company files remain secure without needing to update any management systems. In light of recent hygiene concerns, on-device and touchless biometric solutions using face or iris also remove the need for a shared sensor or PIN-pad.

  • OK Computer

Securing access to computers and laptops is another crucial element for the modern-day business set-up. PINs and passwords are no longer fit for purpose. Users are tired of remembering an array of different codes – increasingly, they’re a source of frustration and anxiety, with 6 out of 10 worrying about forgetting them.

But when it comes to business, a poor UX is far from the biggest issue. More worryingly, PINs and passwords are increasingly easily hacked or stolen, with the end user often the weakest link. 41% admit to reusing the same password across multiple services, and mistakes and complacency generate even greater risks.

With on-device (or companion USB fob or card) biometric authentication, users only present their information to the device, so cannot give anything away. Biometric authentication allows organizations to get rid of the hassle of using PINs and passwords to log into PCs or laptops, making company security more convenient and secure. The UK’s NHS is just one example of an organization reviewing biometrics to replace password login, saving frontline staff considerable time, stress and frustration. Biometrics can also be part of a multi-factor authentication scenario, combining either several forms of biometrics, such as fingerprints, face and iris, or biometrics with existing PIN or password-based login, for stronger authentication.

  • App control

The number of applications, cloud-based services and shared VPN drives used in our working lives has never been higher – both in and out of the office. These apps and drives contain highly confidential and sensitive business information, yet so often remain inadequately secured. This is especially true in a remote access scenario. In fact, since the rise of remote working during the pandemic, the World Economic Forum has described the continued reliance on legacy authentication solutions as “a recipe for cybercrime”.

A simple and frictionless way to increase security is to deploy biometric authentication via unique personal devices such as USB dongles, or by utilizing on-device authentication on a smartphone. FIDO-certified solutions are just one compelling solution supporting this. Plus, biometrics can also be used to authorize selected employees to access restricted areas of an organization’s network, protecting confidentiality.

The scope for biometrics to secure logical access is huge, particularly for work-related smartphone apps. It is estimated that by 2022, biometric authentication for smartphone applications in the workplace will rise 70%, up from the 5% of companies who currently secure apps with biometrics. With around 80% of devices now featuring some form of biometric authentication, this can also be achieved with a low-cost investment.

  • Let’s get personal

Biometric authentication can also be used to simplify access to personalized settings or employee accounts when using shared devices, such as a printer system or a ‘hot desk’ computer.

In the future, this could even be integrated into wider office use cases, such as personalizing the air conditioning preference in meeting rooms or unlocking your personal settings on the coffee machine with a simple touch.

Biometrics can not only play a role in securing the modern workplace, but can also improve convenience, saving time and giving employees greater flexibility over how, when and where they work.

Biometrics – the key to smarter working

The appeal of biometrics in the workplace is clear to see. Compared to other forms of authentication, biometrics provides a considerably more secure and convenient solution that can complement existing infrastructure.

Even when it’s ‘business as usual’, work is routinely done outside of the office. With biometric authentication enabled across a variety of endpoint devices, it can secure the entire workplace setup, whether at home, in the office, or on the road. Employees can work more flexibly, smarter and independently, without the unnecessary added stress of PINs and passcodes. Meanwhile, employers can be reassured that access to confidential materials doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Plus, by adding biometric authentication to personal devices, employers can remove the challenges of storing personal data vulnerable to hacking attacks.

Now is the time for companies to look beyond tactical ‘patches’ and think strategically about their long-term physical and logical access control infrastructure. As the world’s way of working continues to evolve, biometrics can play a key role in ensuring that the future of work is truly smarter.

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