Biometrics: Using Physical and Behavioral Characteristics to Combat Identity Theft

Every day we read about the theft of personal data from organizations we thought would be able to protect this
information. If we can’t count on organizations like banks, credit card companies, hospitals, and the government’s Office of Personnel Management to protect this information, how do we interact in a world where we must verify that we are who we say we are?

Biometrics, the physical or behavioral characteristics unique to you, offer a viable solution to this issue. Physical characteristics such as fingerprints, face, iris, hand geometry, speech, and DNA, as well as behavioral characteristics like your gait, keystroke patterns, and heart beat rhythm hold the key to protecting your identity and personal information.

For this edition of The Download, we will compare a number of biometric signals to understand those most useful in preventing identity theft. We will also review the maturity of equipment, including smart phones used to collect biometrics; discuss the vulnerabilities of biometric identity systems; and look at current examples of biometrics used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan for identity recognition.

Delores M. Etter is a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering (EE) at SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering. She is the founding director of the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education, a Caruth Professor of Engineering Education, and a distinguished fellow in the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security.  Her research in biometrics, funded primarily by the intelligence community, supports undergraduate and graduate students from the EE and Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) Departments.

Dr. Delores Etter

Dr. Etter previously held faculty positions at the University of New Mexico, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the United States Naval Academy and served as a visiting professor at Stanford University. She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a former member of the National Science Board. Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 2005-2007, Dr. Etter has been honored by the Department of the Navy whose top annual awards for scientists and engineers bear her name.

Dr. Etter earned a B.S. and M.S. in mathematics from Wright State University and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of New Mexico.