Visa Study: Consumers Want Biometric Authentication, Not Passwords

A recent study has found that consumers are aware of, and are favorably disposed to, authentication methods that don’t include traditional passwords. Sponsored by Visa and conducted by AYTM Market Research, the survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers revealed that biometric authentication methods top the list of preferred password alternatives.

Smartphones Give Way to Smarter Authentication

The shift to smaller devices such as smartphones likely has a lot to do with this. Authentication methods such as fingerprint, facial and voice recognition are easier to use on the smaller screen space of a mobile device, while the devices themselves now have enough computing power to enable the use of such technology.

Mark Nelsen, senior vice president of risk and authentication products at Visa, told Help Net Security, “Advances in mobile device features are increasing the accuracy and speed of biometrics, such that they can be used for financial transactions. At the same time, consumers are widely familiar and comfortable with using biometrics for more than just unlocking their phones.”

Biometrics can help solve a common problem among users: password reuse. According to the study, consumers’ poor password behavior fits what has generally been known. For instance, less than a third of respondents have a unique password for each of their accounts, which represents a security risk.

The Consumer Demand for Biometric Authentication

The Visa study found that 86 percent of consumers are interested in using biometrics to verify their identity or to make payments. More than 65 percent reported that they are already familiar with employing biometrics.

Respondents had a generally positive view of the technology: 70 percent believe biometrics are easier to use than a password or PIN, and 61 percent believe biometric authentication is faster. Consumers also felt that use of biometric technology was a positive addition to security, with 46 percent of the belief that they are more secure using biometrics than using a password or a PIN.

Fingerprints were the most-used biometric recognition technique by consumers. Thirty percent said they had used it once or twice in the past, while another 35 percent said they use it regularly. In contrast, 32 percent of respondents have used voice recognition in the past, but only 9 percent said they routinely use it to authenticate.

Consumers are loud and clear: They want alternatives to traditional passwords. It’s now up to security professionals to provide them in a manner that is both secure and intuitive.

Larry Loeb

Principal, PBC Enterprises

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other...