Biometrics oversold, says Peter Cochrane


Biometrics oversold, says Peter Cochrane

Nick Booth

Biometric security is massively oversold, technology guru Peter Cochrane has told Computer Weekly. Society already has the perfect set of tools for securing ID, he said, it just has not learned to implement them properly.

In an exclusive interview, the respected former chief technology officer and head of research at BT, now chair of the Cochrane Associates consultancy, shared his despair at the way each new identification technique is presented.

"All companies present you with their new invention the holy grail," he complained. "But measuring someone's gait, or the veins in their palm, only works in ideal conditions. If you carry a laptop, for example, that dramatically changes the way you walk," he said.

Over-selling new security applications means Britain's economy wastes millions of pounds on new inventions when we already have all the tools we need, he said. "Iris scanning is six degrees more accurate than even DNA," he said. "The only drawback is we have not learned to use it efficiently. Look at the commotion that is created when they put iris scanners in airports."

Meanwhile, said Cochrane, the security industry has ignored one of the simplest but most effective forms of biometrics for decades: rhythm. "When we type, whether it is at the keyboard or the cashpoint, we all have a unique rhythm," he explained. "If you can measure that, you can identify anyone."

Knowledge of these biometric rhythms dates back to the Second World War, when British intelligence found they could recognise the rhythms of every telegram operator. "If a spy sent a telegraph, it was possible for an skilled operator to detect that this was an unusual source. You cannot even tap out a telegram without giving away your ID."

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