Tech Content
8 minutes

The payment card industry is shifting dramatically towards the utilization of biometrics.  Stolen cards, identity theft and other malicious activities are a massive drain on resources, not to mention the effect on cardholders.  Common authentication methods are too easily compromised.  Passwords are easy to guess or crack with free software. Email addresses and social security numbers are readily available for sale on the internet.  It's a system that's simply too easy to manipulate and very difficult to defend.

The Battle For Safer Payment Methods

The use of biometrics helps to solve these problems. Falsifying a cardholder's 100 slightest vocal nuances isn't only extremely difficult, but simply not worth the time. Financial businesses are already well equipped to manage multiple authentication methods, so using a software collected biometric input alongside existing password input is little more than a feature request in development. All it takes is a vendor with the vision for this type of integration. With these safeguards in place, cardholders can rest easy because their money is protected. The payment gateway provider is also relieved of added obligation to reinstate losses due to theft.

The Shift From Fingerprinting

Unfortunately, the most popular and well documented form of biometric collection, fingerprinting, also requires specialized equipment. It feels like second nature to login to your apps with your thumb, but it takes complex pattern matching capabilities and a capacitative sensor to collect and decode all those little swirls on your finger. Technology never ceases to amaze, though, and more reliable ways of collecting other biometric data have developed in the last few years1. Notably, voice authentication has proven to be at least as reliable as fingerprinting under certain conditions and requires nothing more than your existing microphone and analysis software that can reside in the cloud.

The Financial Advantage

User verification equipment can be expensive and as attacks increase in complexity, that equipment must be consistently upgraded. This means that keeping fingerprinting collection, storage and analysis tools up-to-date is an expensive undertaking, before a financial group even thinks about deploying this technology on a wider scale. Alternative biometric sources for identifying users, like voice authentication, is a natural progression1.

Multi-Factor, Faster

Long-term savings aren't the only benefit to payment providers. The additional advantage of using voiceprinting over fingerprinting is the ability to gather multiple authentication factors in the same transaction instead of waiting for the hardware collection of the print and software collection of a pin. Faster processing with fewer transactions increases customer satisfaction and reduces the attack surface for hackers.

Reducing The Risk Of Physical Theft

Biometric access methods also pave the way for further movement outside of the traditional requirement for "something you have" like a physical card.  Digital wallets have become increasingly popular, but the current requirement for fingerprint scanning keeps the adoption of wallets restricted to devices with specialized hardware2. Voice authentication provides a method of storing digital wallets in a multitude of mobile devices with less sophisticated equipment like your smartwatch or even a point of sale system.

The Right Solution At The Right Time

Perhaps not surprisingly, the idea of paying with a voice authenticated gateway isn't really new at all.  In 2007, the MIT Technology Review did a piece on a service called Voice Pay which attempted to make a move to mainstream3. They were a bit ahead of their time with a clunky system that wasn't as secure as hoped, but it's clear that today's crackpot idea might just be next week's breakout tech.

The payment card industry is known for consistently seeking out the most secure solutions on the bleeding edge of new technology. Voice authentication may not be new, but it’s definitely on the rise as additional methods of implementation surface and make it a fresh take on an old problem. With testing already ongoing in select areas, this is a wave to watch, slated for widespread adoption in 2019.