The concept of Biometrics has its roots in the 1870s where Alphonse Bertillon devised a system of body measurements to catalogue and identify prisoners in jails in the United States [ 1 ]. In this 21st century, automated means of capturing and authenticating users based on their unique traits and the requirement to reliably and securely authenticate users seeking physical access to buildings, through international borders and in ‘Cyberspace’ has never been more paramount. Biometrics can offer a solution to these authentication challenges, bringing with them a reduction in the requirement to remember personal identification number (PINs) and passwords and the number of tokens and identity cards held in possession. Biometrics should also bring with them enhanced confidence in the authenticity of people as it should be much harder to fake physical and behavioural human properties compared with the ease with which passwords and tokens can be stolen and shared. Biometric systems are however not without their problems which present some unique challenges around their adoption and secure implementation. Here the preliminary concepts necessary to understand biometric systems are set out – how they work, their limitations and what challenges exist to their development, implementation and adoption as a reliable and secure authentication mechanism.
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