Biometric Encryption and Protecting Personal Data

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With traditional passwords becoming increasingly vulnerable to breaches, the focus has shifted towards more secure and unique identifiers – our biometric data. Biometric encryption stands at the forefront of this evolution, merging individual biological traits’ uniqueness with cryptographic techniques’ robustness. 

This article will discuss how biometric encryption works, its applications, and challenges in the rapidly evolving cybersecurity landscape. From unlocking smartphones to securing high-value transactions, biometric encryption reshapes how we think about and interact with security systems. 


What Is Biometric Encryption?

Biometric encryption, also known as biometric template protection, is a process that combines biometric data (like fingerprints, facial recognition, or iris scans) with encryption techniques to enhance security. 

Biometric encryption includes several core principles, including:

  • Data Security: Strong encryption safeguards protect raw biometric data by encrypting it before storing or transmitting it. This prevents unauthorized access to the raw biometric information, even if the database is compromised.
  • Key Binding: Biometric data is securely bound to a cryptographic key or token. When the biometric data is captured, it acts as a unique key to encrypt or decrypt the associated token. Only authorized individuals can access the protected information using their corresponding data.
  • Privacy Protection: Even if biometric data is compromised, it cannot be decrypted or used to create a duplicate copy. This protects user privacy by preventing unauthorized individuals from re-creating the original information.
  • Misuse Prevention: Biometric encryption effectively prevents the misuse of data. Unlike passwords that can be changed, biometric data is irreplaceable, making it less susceptible to unauthorized access or impersonation. It’s also crucial in banking sectors where secure customer identification is paramount.

Biometric encryption is a rapidly evolving field, responding to increasing concerns about data security and privacy in an age where biometric authentication is becoming more common.


How Does Biometric Encryption Work?

biometric encryption

The ingenious concept of binding identifying data to a unique key or token is at the heart of biometric encryption. When a user provides the data, cryptographic algorithms ensure that only authorized individuals with the correct data can access the protected information.

  • Biometric Data Capture: The process begins with capturing an individual’s data, such as a fingerprint scan or an iris image.
  • Biometric Template Creation: This raw biometric data is then processed to create a template. This template is a digital representation of the unique features extracted from the biometric data.
  • Binding with a Key or Token: The template is bound or integrated with a cryptographic key or token. This can be done in several ways, such as key generation from the template or binding a key with existing biometric data. 
  • Storage: The combined physical data and key (or the means to generate it) are often encrypted. Importantly, the original biometric data is not stored so that it can be reconstructed, enhancing security and privacy.
  • Verification Process: The user presents their data (like a fingerprint) during authentication. The system then processes this data to generate a template and attempts to retrieve or reconstruct the cryptographic key. If the key is successfully retrieved or regenerated, the presented matches the stored template, and the user is authenticated.

Biometric encryption provides a way to use data for authentication or identification while addressing many privacy and security concerns associated with storing raw biometric data. Ensuring that the data cannot be reconstructed from the stored information protects users’  data from potential misuse or theft.


Can Hackers Steal or Spoof Biometric Data?

Yes, people can steal and spoof templates. Still, the ease and likelihood of successfully doing so vary greatly depending on the technology and security measures in place.

  • Stealing Biometric Data: The first step in spoofing is often stealing the data. This can be done by hacking into a database where templates are stored or unauthorizedly capturing biometric data. The difficulty level for this theft depends on the security of the targeted system.
  • Spoofing Techniques: After obtaining the data, hackers create a fake identifier (like a fingerprint, face, or iris) that can trick the system. Techniques for spoofing include fingerprint and facial recognition spoofing.
  • Iris or Retina Spoofing: Creating fake eyes or using high-quality images of the iris. This is more difficult due to the complexity and uniqueness of the iris pattern.

Risks for spoofing are somewhat limited, as they depend on the type of biometrics used and the sophistication of the attacker. 


What Regulations Refer to Biometric Data Protection?

Biometric encryption is subject to various compliance regulations, although it may not always be explicitly termed a “requirement” in every regulation. The specific requirements can vary based on jurisdiction and the protected data type. Here are some key examples:

  • California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA): This regulation explicitly governs the processing of personal data in California. It binds businesses to various requirements related to biometric information, including expansive disclosure obligations, compliance with data subject rights, and information security mandates.
  • Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA): This Illinois legislation imposes strict notice and consent requirements on organizations before they may collect or otherwise obtain biometric data. Organizations must obtain informed consent before collecting and storing a user’s data, including the purpose and length of time the data will be stored and used.
  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): In the European Union, the GDPR affects businesses that collect physical identifying data. It imposes various compliance requirements, influencing how firms store and process data.
  • New York City Biometric Privacy Ordinance: Passed in January 2021, this ordinance places obligations on commercial establishments in New York City. Businesses must notify customers if they collect data by placing a clear and conspicuous sign near all the business entrances.

While biometric encryption per se may not be a mandated requirement in every compliance regulation, collecting, processing, and protecting data are subject to stringent regulations in various jurisdictions, emphasizing robust security measures, including potential encryption, to ensure compliance.


See If Your Biometric Systems Are Up to Speed with Continuum GRC

Continuum GRC is a cloud platform that can take something as routine and necessary as regular vulnerability scanning and reporting under FedRAMP and make it an easy and timely part of business in the public sector. We provide risk management and compliance support for every major regulation and compliance framework on the market, including:

  • FedRAMP
  • StateRAMP
  • NIST 800-53
  • FARS NIST 800-171
  • CMMC
  • SOC 1, SOC 2
  • PCI DSS 4.0
  • IRS 1075
  • ISO 27000 Series
  • ISO 9000 Series

And more. We are the only FedRAMP and StateRAMP-authorized compliance and risk management solution worldwide.

Continuum GRC is a proactive cyber security® and the only FedRAMP and StateRAMP-authorized cybersecurity audit platform worldwide. Call 1-888-896-6207 to discuss your organization’s cybersecurity needs and find out how we can help your organization protect its systems and ensure compliance.

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