Behavioral biometric authentication is a hot topic in identity and access management. But did you know that remote identification of individuals based on their behavioral characteristics actually spans back as far as the Second World War? Yes—during the War, Allied forces began to recognize one another based on the unique ways that an individual would enter sensitive messages in morse code.
Fast forward to today, we’re using behavioral characteristics to authenticate identity in more dynamic and innovative ways than ever before. From measuring the way that you walk to analyzing the tones in your voice, and even monitoring the way that you type and physically interact with your devices, your behavioral biometric data is a unique identifier. In fact, artificial intelligence (AI) can distinguish you from billions of other humans just by analyzing these unique patterns in the way that you move and act.
But what exactly is behavioral biometric authentication, and what are the key things you need to know about it?
Throughout this guide, we’ll explore the differences between behavioral and physiological types of authentication, how behavioral authentication works, how accurate and secure it is, and how to evaluate the right solution for your organization.
What Is Behavioral Biometric Authentication And How Does It Work?
To fully understand what behavioral biometric authentication is, we first need to take a look at the bigger picture. There are three methods of authenticating user identity:
- Using something you know: a password, pin, or answer to a secret question.
- Using something you have: a hardware security key, authentication app, or card reader.
- Using something you are: a fingerprint, face scan, or behavioral trait.
Biometric data comes under something that you are—with “bio” deriving from the Greek word for “life,” and “metric,” of course, being the verb “to measure.” So, authenticating a user based on their biometric data means measuring their live physiological and/or behavioral traits and comparing this with data that’s already stored on file.
Think of it this way, biometric authentication works quite similarly to how a password works—except pieces of biometric data are like passwords that you wear on your body. Passwords that are very difficult to steal or imitate, even more difficult to change, and impossible to forget.
So, which characteristics can we use to authenticate our identities?
Well, biometric data is most commonly split into two categories: physiological and behavioral. And, while this article focuses on behavioral biometrics, it’s important that you understand the differences between the two:
- Physiological: This type of data is a measurement of your physical characteristics. Authentication often involves a scan that compares a physical trait with data that already exists on file. Examples include the use of fingerprint scanners, facial recognition technology, hand geometry, iris scanning, and vein patterns.
- Behavioral: This type of data is a measurement of the way that you move and act, and is far more passive. This technology works in the background, continuously monitoring your behavior, so that when you attempt to log in, you’ll be recognized simply from the way that you move. Examples include keystroke rhythm, gait, voice recognition, and mouse usage.
While physiological biometric authentication relies on physical bodily traits—such as the ridges of your fingerprints or the structure of your face—to authenticate your identity, behavioral biometric authentication measures the unique patterns in your behavior using AI and machine learning (ML) technologies. It works silently and passively, monitoring the unique patterns that you display when performing specified acts, and learning to recognize you from the repetition of these micro-behaviors.
So, how exactly does behavioral biometric authentication work?
How Does Behavioral Biometric Authentication Work?
Much like when you first set up a password-protected account, you need to register a password, when setting up biometric systems you need to enroll into the system by presenting your biometric data. This is so the system can build a model it can use to match your biometric data in the future.
When using physiological biometrics, you need to register your biometric data in the system before you can start using it to log in. The first scan that you register creates a kind of personal biometric template, which then becomes the reference that every future login attempt will be compared to. But behavioral biometric authentication works a little differently.
Instead, behavioral biometric authentication continuously analyzes your data in the background over time, rather than using just one reference point. What this means is that not only does the system have many data samples to compare your login attempts to, but can adapt over time as your behavior changes. And because the technology works silently, it can analyze the micro-patterns that you display in your behavior and build a profile of your unique movements without disturbing your day.
How Is Behavioral Biometric Data Collected?
Let’s use the example of your typing habits—the technology can build your profile based on things like your typing speed, the length of time that you press a key for, and keystroke patterns when typing certain words or sequences. Your data is then analyzed using AI and ML technologies and algorithms, which, when you attempt to log in, passively assign you a risk score depending on how closely the behavior you display matches past behavior.
Admins can determine and implement thresholds for how far above or below a certain number your risk score can be. And if anomalies are detected and your risk score goes beyond the set threshold, you’ll be denied access and/or prompted to authenticate using an additional factor.
Additionally, many solutions couple this risk scoring technique with contextual factors to strengthen the security of your account. Such factors might include location, WiFi network, known/unknown devices, and the times of day that you commonly access certain accounts and perform specific actions.
The Benefits Of Implementing Behavioral Biometric Authentication
It’s no secret that passwords are on their way out. As a method of authentication that’s increasingly difficult to manage and notoriously insecure, passwords are increasingly being replaced by methods of authentication that are not only highly secure but frictionless, silent, and minimally invasive to their daily lives.
It’s critical that digital service providers, especially those in industries like banking, payment technologies and financial services, have secure authentication methods in place to protect their customers, while ensuring that users can easily access their accounts and services.
Behavioral biometric authentication is a key method of achieving this type of frictionless experience for your users, and brings with it a wealth of benefits that you can reap just by implementing this technology.
These benefits include:
Improved user experience: All users need to do to authenticate their identity is, well, be themselves. There are no complicated passwords or shared secrets to remember, no hardware security keys to carry around, and no smartphones to reach from their pockets. This ensures a fast, frictionless, and convenient authentication process.
A truly passive technology: This type of authentication is non-invasive, requires no technical knowledge, and demands no time or effort to use. The process of collecting data and authenticating happens in the background, without users even noticing.
Continuous authentication: There’s a double benefit here in that not only does continuous authentication prevent users from having to pause to enter a password or scan a fingerprint, but also can assure you that they are who they say they are during every interaction, as opposed to just on initial sign in.
Increased security and fraud detection: Behavioral biometrics are not only impossible to lose or share, but also near impossible for a bad actor to imitate. This means that even if they were used only as a second factor of authentication when logging in, if a user’s credentials were compromised, their account would still be inaccessible to anyone who wasn’t displaying the right behaviors.
Fast and low-cost deployment: Because the technology already works on pre-existing devices, there is no need to invest in costly new sensors. This is a fast and easy strategy for IT teams to deploy.
Flexibility in modes of authentication: Many behavioral characteristics can be tracked and used as modes of authentication. This means you can let users choose the type that works best for them based on their use case, lifestyle, and physical abilities.
How Accurate Is Behavioral Biometric Authentication?
So, can the way that we walk or type really be as unique and accurate an identifier as our fingerprint or face? Yes, it can.
In fact, behavioral biometric technologies function with a high degree of accuracy. Let’s break it down.
Behavioral Biometrics Use A Probabilistic System
Because biometrics are based on real-world measurements—and no two measurements can be exactly identical—there will always be slight variations each time a biometric is measured. This means biometrics are inherently probabilistic. While deterministic methods like passwords require an exact match to grant you access to an account.
Although it may sound counterintuitive, probabilistic methods like behavioral biometrics can actually be more secure than deterministic methods like passwords. To see why, consider the case when someone authenticates using a password.
Because a password system is deterministic, it only looks at one piece of information: the content of the password. If the password matches, the user is authenticated. But you have no way of knowing who entered that password. This is even more true now, with the prevalence of data breaches, phishing attacks, and poor password hygiene.
Whereas for biometric authentication technology to be accurate, when you’re logging in it needs to prove that you’re not only the right person, but that you’re a real person, and are physically there in that moment, authenticating in real-time. Thus, it is far more difficult to hack than a typical password.
A key thing to consider when exploring the accuracy of any behavioral biometric system is something we briefly touched on earlier—thresholds.
Passwords have no threshold—either you get a 100% match, or you don’t. Behavioral biometrics, on the other hand, work as a sort of risk engine, with specified thresholds determining how far you can stray beyond a certain risk score before you’re denied access. And these thresholds—which are determined by your admins—have a huge impact on how accurate your system is.
The stricter the threshold, the more accurate your system will be. But this will likely result in a higher false rejection rate (FRR—when a user is denied access to their account even though they are its rightful owner), which will also add friction to your user experience. Conversely, the more lenient your threshold, the less accurate your system will be, and you risk a higher false acceptance rate (FAR—when a user is wrongly granted access to an account that doesn’t belong to them).
So, if you’re a high-security organization you might want to implement more strict thresholds. But if user experience is a priority for you, you should look to balance high security and accuracy with user experience.
Accuracy Increases Over Time
Because behavioral biometrics continuously monitor your behavior, it means that the data pool that creates your behavioral baseline constantly expands. And so, a key thing to note about this type of authentication is that it grows increasingly accurate over time as it becomes more familiar with your patterns of behavior.
This continuous monitoring combined with machine learning technology also means that any changes in your behavior will be factored in, so the system can adapt and retain its high levels of accuracy.
How Secure Is Behavioral Biometric Authentication?
We’ve talked a lot about how behavioral biometrics continuously monitor your behavior without you noticing, so if you get the feeling that you’re trapped inside a George Orwell novel—Big Brother is watching you—then you aren’t alone.
Privacy is a key concern for many users, so it’s easy to understand the unease that might stem from feeling like you’re living under a magnifying glass. But the reality is that behavioral biometrics are nothing to be scared of—and, in some ways, actually allow you more security and privacy than other methods of authentication.
Data Is More Secure
Generally, biometric technologies are considered by experts to be one of the most secure methods of protecting your accounts.
Part of this is because behavioral biometric data is not static. So, for example, if your credentials are stolen, then a bad actor could keep logging into your account over and over without facing any resistance. This is because passwords are deterministic and static, and so as long as a user keeps achieving a 100%, character-by-character match, they’ll be granted access to that account.
Whereas in the case of behavioral biometrics, because they function on a probabilistic system, if a bad actor were to somehow imitate one of your patterns of behavior—which, in itself, is already a very unlikely thing to achieve—they’d only be able to do that once. This is because behavioral biometric data continuously changes and evolves, making any stolen data redundant very quickly.
Is Behavioral Biometric Authentication Right For You?
Historically, behavioral biometric authentication has been embraced by high-security organizations such as banks and financial institutions. This is because it’s not only a great additional layer of security during login but can also be leveraged as an indicator of fraud.
But as technologies advance and solutions evolve, alongside the surge in demand for frictionless login experiences, more diverse industries are embracing the advantages that behavioral biometric authentication can offer.
In fact, the behavioral biometrics market is expected to reach 4.62 billion USD by 2027, with solutions being offered for e-commerce, manufacturing, physical security/smart locks, fraud detection, and more.
So, whatever your industry, there’s likely a solution on the market that can fulfill your users’ needs. But is this type of technology right for you and your specific requirements? Let’s explore the ways that behavioral biometrics are most commonly used.
How Is Behavioral Biometric Authentication Commonly Used?
Firstly, you can use behavioral biometrics as a standalone security feature—they are typically secure enough to be used as your main factor of authentication. The characteristic that you measure—whether it’s typing speed, gait, or mouse movements—is known as the “modality,” and so if you’re going to go down the route of using these as your only factor, we’d recommend that you implement what’s called a “multimodal” system. This, as its name suggests, means that you measure multiple modalities or factors when authenticating as opposed to just one.
But many solutions offer behavioral biometrics as an additional factor of authentication in a multi-factor authentication (MFA) system, alongside and to support several other factors. This would mean that your users might still log in using their credentials, for example, but your behavioral biometric technology would passively authenticate in the background as an additional layer of security.
Often, this is done because users want to see more visible account protection in place, even where behavioral biometrics mean that it isn’t really needed. Keiron Dalton, VP and UK Country Manager at Behavioral Biometrics provider Prove, told us:
“We’re finding that it’s almost kind of too seamless at times. So, we have to create a level of friction, just to give the end consumer confidence that you’ve not just sailed through.”
And, with MFA becoming a requirement for more and more platforms, behavioral biometric authentication offers a way to implement that without adding friction to your users’ journey.
Behavioral biometric authentication is a fantastic option for you if preventing account takeover and identity theft is a key concern, as well as providing a fast, frictionless, and easy user experience.
Prove is an innovative identity and access management provider, currently trusted by more than 1,000 enterprises and 500 financial institutions globally. Their unique solution is based on “proving identity with just a phone,” leveraging a combination of phone number signals and (recently acquired) UnifyID’s behavioral biometric technology to not only verify a user’s device, but also the person behind it.
This means that Prove’s solution leverages the “something you have” factor and combines it with the “something you are” factor to create an advanced, powerful, and complete solution.
Prove offers three types of behavioral biometric authentication solutions. These are:
- GaitAuth: This silently authenticates users based on the unique way that they walk with a high degree of accuracy.
- MotionAuth: This recognizes users’ unique motions and behaviors, such as the way they pick up and engage with their smartphones, factoring in environmental and contextual factors.
- PushAuth: This enables passwordless, one-tap login by sending push notifications to a user’s phone and leveraging motion biometrics.
These three solutions can be combined to create a multimodal/MFA system that’s non-intrusive and frictionless for users—and above all, accurate.
Using Prove’s advanced technology, enterprises and consumers can verify identity, mitigate fraud, improve user experience, and reduce operational costs. The solution is available in 195 countries and can be used across a variety of use cases, including but not limited to finance, e-commerce, payments, onboarding, and digital services.
Behavioral biometric authentication works by continuously monitoring the micro-patterns in users’ behaviors and learning to recognize individuals based on the unique way they move. It’s incredibly accurate, highly secure, and frictionless, making it the perfect solution for organizations looking to balance security with a great user experience.
To find out more about Prove’s biometric authentication solution, you can contact their team here: