Iris scanning makes leap as security tool

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Iris scanning makes leap as security tool

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Jonathan Wong of Samsung’s Knox Product Marketing demonstrates the iris scanning feature of the Galaxy Note 7 in New York, July 28. [AP/NEWSIS]

The debut Tuesday of Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy Note 7’s iris scanner is set to change the landscape of mobile banking security, which has been dominated by fingerprints since 2013.

Less than a day after Samsung showcased the curved-edge phablet, KEB Hana and Woori announced they would launch a service in tandem with shipments of the phone this month that will allow Note 7 owners to use Samsung Pass for various banking services. Samsung Electronics has dubbed the entire process of mobile banking using the iris scanner Samsung Pass.

Currently, users are required to enter a password of at least eight digits to get a so-called certificate to log onto a mobile banking app in Korea. After that, they go through at least three additional security steps. Samsung Pass will end that hassle. A user will only need to have a smartphone read his or her eyeballs.

KEB Hana Bank gave the new service a name: selca banking. Selca is a portmanteau of the words selfie and camera. It is registering the term as a trademark.

Samsung registered the terms “Galaxy Iris” and “Galaxy Eyeprint” as trademarks in the United States, Europe and Korea in May.

“The selca banking service is a tangible outcome of the Korean financial regulator’s efforts to scrap superfluous regulations such as mandatory usage of authenticated certificates for identity verification,” said a KEB Bank spokesman. “We plan to introduce more diversified means of mobile authentication that promise both security and convenience.”

What makes iris scans a better means of biometric identification than fingerprints?

The iris, located behind the eye’s cornea and in front of the lens, has a fine texture that is determined randomly during embryonic gestation. It forms such a complex pattern that the chance of false matches in scans is extremely low, experts say. Even identical twins, who are genetically identical, have completely independent iris textures.

While face recognition has an error rate of 0.001 percent, scanning the iris of one eye has an error rate of 0.000001 percent. It is almost impossible to make an error when using a pair of irises. Iris scanning also removes the need for the person being identified to touch equipment that has recently been touched by a stranger.

Iris scanning has been used for years to verify identities - at airports mostly - and is being adopted by the financial sector.

Irience, a Korean company established in 2010, is one of few companies that make iris recognition software and door locks. It grabbed the attention of the financial industry at a Demo Day hosted by the Financial Services Commission (FSC) last year.

The company has recently inked a deal to provide iris recognition solutions for access to all the branches of the state-run VHS Medical Center and helped the Industrial Bank of Korea run an iris verification system on two ATMs since December. The state-run bank began using the futuristic system on 10 additional ATMs in June.

“Samsung’s move to implement iris scanning for its smartphones is welcome news,” said Kim Sung-hyun, CEO of Irience. “Iris recognition has thus far been confined to machines like ATMs. Smartphones carrying the system means a much wider demographic will get access to the new technology and the market will broaden.”

Samsung is actually not the first to introduce this biometric security system in a smartphone. Fujitsu’s Arrows NX F-04G and Microsoft’s Lumia 950 XL, both of which feature a built-in iris scanner, were released last year, with marginal success.

The futuristic feature hit the market two years after Apple implemented the fingerprint reading in the iPhone 5S, the so-called Touch ID. Samsung, HTC and Huawei followed suit. Iris recognition is reaching other devices too. Microsoft lets users log into the Windows 10 Hello operating system with face, iris or fingerprint identification.

Apple is likely to include iris scanning for its iPhone - most likely the iPhone 9, predicts Asem Othman, a biometric scientist at Hoyos Labs. Apple was already granted a patent for advanced eye-tracking technology that follows a user’s gaze and relays the information to an on-screen graphical user interface in January last year.

Iris recognition will only be available on premium phones, given that the near-infrared lighting and sensors are expensive. The phone also needs a powerful processor to enable the feature, according to Othman.


BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]

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