No, Passwords are NOT Dead, and No, Biometrics is NOT the Answer!

The title is already too long, but what it should have said was; “No, [all] Passwords are NOT Dead, and No, Biometrics [by itself] is NOT the Answer!”

Passwords represent one of only 3 factors in authentication; the something you know, and to get rid of them when they are already so established in favour of another single form of authentication; the something you are represented by biometrics, is wrong to the point of being irresponsible.

In one of my previous articles related to biometrics hype, subtly titled “Anyone Else Getting Sick of Biometrics Hype?” I made it clear that I am actually a fan of biometrics. I went as far as to say; “…they are absolutely intrinsic to the future of non-cash payments and the implementation of true identity management…“. But what I cannot accept, and will rail against until I’m blue in the face, is those shamelessly trying to make biometrics the only player in town.

Somehow my enormous blog following of 99, (including family) has so far been unable to effect the changes the industry so desperately needs. But this is the not the first time blatant self-interest has made matters worse for everyone; The battle over NFC delayed its useful implementation for years, the on-going battle for loyalty / reward programs means there are tens of thousands of them (most of little use to the end consumer), and having a different adaptor for almost every device we own (even if you only have Apple!) annoys me endlessly.

Biometrics vendors are now firmly in this illustrious group, and it’s all so unnecessary.

However, there are a lot of organisation out there trying to do the right thing, those whose mission is to ease the transition of the payments space from cash / paper / plastic to digital, and who recognise that no ONE organisation has all the answers. Passwords are not the answer, biometrics are not the answer, hardware devices are not the answer, it’s a combination of ALL of these things and all the things to come that will get us to where we need to be. Those prepared to collaborate, to be part of the solution instead of being the problem, will all get a piece of a much larger pie. If they can prove their merit.

The worst part of it is that the ‘problem’ biometrics vendors are trying to solve has been created mostly by them! Yes, a lot of people want digital payments to be easy, or ‘frictionless’ (as the current buzz-phrase goes), but the vast majority of people are not concerned about passwords, they just change them, nor are they concerned about cashless payments, what’s wrong with their credit cards? While there is no question that payments will transition from plastic to mobile, it will be a long transition, and there is no room for disruptive innovation in this space.

I of course blame Apple for this, Apple Pay has driven an increase in interest in biometrics that has every vendor clamouring to monetise before the interest dries up.  And dry up it will, IF they continue along the current course. Biometrics by itself does not solve the security challenges, but if they embraced the collaboration with all the other forms of authentication (including passwords), they would cement their future in a far more positive place.

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