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Q&A: THE IMPACT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ON BIOMETRIC AUTHENTICATION.

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Joël Di Manno, Authentication & Biometrics Laboratory Service Line Manager and Abdarahmane Wone, Biometrics & AI Researcher at Fime.

 

User adoption of biometric authentication has accelerated in recent years, yet some users are still cautious. Fime is exploring ways to innovate on biometric evaluation to help solution providers to launch reliable and high-performance products. In this interview, Stéphanie Pietri, Communications Director at Fime, speaks to Joël and Abdarahmane about their scientific paper to learn more on the impact of environmental conditions on fingerprint systems performance.

 

Stéphanie Pietri: What is biometric authentication?

Joël Di Manno: Biometric authentication solutions utilize a person’s physical or behavioural characteristics, such as their fingerprint, face, or keystroke dynamics to verify their identity. Using biometric characteristics to authenticate someone provides a high level of security because these traits are unique to that person. It also provides a good user experience, as there is no need to remember long passwords. This can provide consumers with easier routes to make a payment or access a service.

However, the adaptability of biometric solutions can present challenges, as different conditions have the potential to increase false acceptance or rejection rates. This means that there is the potential for security to be compromised if non-genuine users can be verified, or the user experience will be impacted if genuine users cannot.

 

SP: What type of environmental conditions can influence biometric authentication?

Abdarahmane Wone: One of the challenges of biometric solutions is that environmental conditions can alter their performance. For example, if someone is using a facial recognition solution, changes in lighting or the background can influence its performance. Similarly, fingerprint systems can be affected when environmental conditions like temperature and humidity change, because the texture of fingerprints alter accordingly. This change can mean that the fingerprint does not match the reference fingerprint that was recorded during enrolment and therefore is not verified.

These environmental changes impact the performance, security, user experience and the trust of biometric systems. It is also important to note that not all biometric systems are impacted in a similar way. However, while we know that there is an impact, very little research has been done to assess the performance of biometric systems in different climatic environments.

 

SP: What did Fime do?

AW: To find out more about these impacts, Fime undertook some research to understand how humidity and temperature changes affect the performance of fingerprint systems. We tested the performance of three different third-party fingerprint authentication matchers in different climatic conditions. The aim was to see how accurate the algorithms were at matching the fingerprint samples taken during enrolment. The performance of the biometric systems was evaluated in six different conditions made up of a combination of two different temperatures and three different humidity environments. The different humidity and temperature environments were created using climatic chambers. After signing consent forms regarding European GDPR regulation, more than one thousand fingerprint images were collected from 17 volunteers.

 

SP: And what was the impact of these environmental factors on biometric authentication?

AW: We observed that all of the algorithms performed better when the environment was less humid. Importantly, we saw that the three algorithms were all impacted differently by temperature and humidity changes, demonstrating that the impact of environmental factors is not consistent across biometric solutions.

Also, the environmental conditions of the enrolment of the fingerprint samples made a difference. The algorithms all performed better when the environmental conditions were the same as those during enrolment of the fingerprint samples. Again, we saw that the three products were all impacted differently when the verification was done in an environment different to the enrolment environment. While two of the products differed less than 1%, the third product differed by 24%. This shows that the product could present high security risks and/or a bad user experience for consumers. This study highlights the importance of a comprehensive enrolment guide for vendors and users, to decrease the impact of environmental conditions as much as possible.

 

SP: What can be done to mitigate the impact of these conditions on biometric authentication systems?

JDM: Fime has now developed a process and identified parameters to evaluate environmental impact, thanks to the research project. The results of this research demonstrate that environmental conditions can have differing degrees of impact on biometric authentication systems. Therefore, testing the performance of biometric solutions in different environments, including different conditions between enrolment and verification, could prevent real-life issues. Certification schemes could introduce this aspect into their evaluation programs to ensure security in various conditions and decrease variance between different biometric solutions.

Biometric solution vendors can use this evaluation during their own quality assurance processes. By performing testing in this area, they can fine-tune solutions to mitigate the impact of environmental conditions. This will verify that their products can be deployed globally and will perform well in different climates. By taking these factors into consideration, they can enhance the trust, security, performance and user experience of their solutions. This may give them the ability to outperform competitors who are not considering the impact of environmental factors when developing their solutions.

 

Interviews

Q&A with Andréa Jacquemin, founder and CEO of Beamy

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Beamy is a fast-growing scale-up that focuses on pioneering a new approach to SaaS management for large companies. Founded in 2017, it has recently launched in the UK and in April it completed a €8 million Series A funding round.

 

Beamy recently held a successful Series A funding round to support international expansion and product development. Why is now the time to strike? 

“We are convinced that SaaS issues are major issues for large companies, whether French or international. With this fundraising from major investors including Agaé Ventures and ISAI, both of whom are recognised for offering cutting edge expertise in the tech sector, we are setting out to conquer the international market.”

 

How quickly is SaaS adoption growing in enterprises? 

“The adoption of SaaS platforms grew by 125 percent from 2020 to 2021. A reason for the influx of SaaS adoption is that the agile and hybrid nature of SaaS matches the hybrid style of work, which many companies adopted during the pandemic. Beyond the pandemic, the future forecasting of the industry is predicting huge growth, with the market value to reach $168.6 billon in 2024.

“While digital transformation was accelerated by the pandemic, it has taken on a life of its own. There is now a catalogue of SaaS applications available to employees, with different uses and price points. In companies with more than 1,000 employees, there are on average several hundred different SaaS solutions in use, representing several million dollars in annual costs.”

 

How is the growth of SaaS shifting workplace technology strategies? 

“The explosion of SaaS within companies has introduced a real organisational change: a true decentralisation of technology ownership and empowerment of business units, who choose and implement their solution themselves. This IT decentralisation has become inevitable and is forcing large organisations and CIOs to rethink their model to structure SaaS growth in a secure environment.

“The objective is not to block access to technology, but rather to enable the freedom of technology choice within a framework that offers more transparency and autonomy.”

 

Have you seen a link between the trends of IT decentralisation and increased hybrid working?

“It is well established that the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to rethink their workplace operations and accelerate their digital transformation. As a result, the number of tools on the market to serve the world of remote or hybrid working have also increased.”

“Hybrid working gives employees more autonomy, allowing them to choose their preferred SaaS applications for completing tasks. There is clear evidence that today’s workforce is demanding more control over how they accomplish tasks. Having access to a wide range of tools creates a decentralised model for IT systems, in which technology needs are self-defined by employees. The democratisation of this process, while advantageous for team productivity and innovation, can also pose several risks to the infrastructure of businesses.”

“While employees are bound in hybrid work settings, CIOs have little control over how these applications are onboarded and managed. In general, when we meet a CIO of a large company, they estimate that their organisation uses 30 to 40 SaaS tools. However, when we begin working together, our technology detects several hundred active SaaS solutions, often revealing more than 75% of shadow IT.”

 

Has the Great Resignation increased the risks presented by shadow IT? 

“When an employee leaves, if the business does not know where data is being stored then any level of data loss is possible. SaaS applications have become easier to buy online through affordable subscriptions. Whether they know it or not, most companies are being digitalised from the bottom up. But this has also led to an explosion in cyber and compliance risks.”

“A high employee turnover, or using lots of freelance workers, can make the problem worse because each new employee will add in their own favourite apps for work. When an employee leaves, their old logins can be left unprotected and invisible to the IT team. That makes them the ideal target for hackers.”

 

What can organisations do to minimise these risks?  

“Now that almost all jobs are digital, it’s vital that HR and IT work together on the onboarding and offboarding processes, not simply rely on technology. This needs to include close collaboration and a proper framework to check for potential governance or compliance issues. It also means old logins can be deleted, meaning fewer ‘back doors’ for hackers to exploit. This makes it easier to identify what apps have sensitive data in them, that need to be removed. Having a central platform to track the apps being used can help with this, but ultimately it needs to be underpinned by a strong company culture of collaboration and compliance awareness.”

 

What specific technologies does Beamy use in its platform to tackle these challenges?

“Beamy has developed powerful scoring algorithms capable of detecting all of the SaaS applications actually implemented in the company. Beamy then is able to follow the evolution of each application over time, provide employees with a catalogue of all applications implemented in the company, define an autonomy matrix according to the potential risks of future applications, and navigate an app store of more than 50,000 applications on the market.”

“This enterprise App Center enables business departments to choose their own technology by feeding them the right information for selection, security and implementation over the long term.”

“Beamy thus guarantees a global approach to SaaS governance necessary to support large companies in the long term to structure their IT decentralisation and establish synergy between all stakeholders: CEOs, CIOs, IT leaders, and business teams.”

 

What is your top piece of advice for CIOs facing shadow IT challenges? 

“The top-down vision of IT is over. We are witnessing a true decentralisation of technological ownership and empowerment of business units, which are selecting and implementing their own solution. This is a story of balance – if we put too many constraints on employees’ ability to choose their applications and implement lengthy processes, they will still use the applications but won’t go through the proper channels with IT in the implementation.”

“Without a solid structure of decentralisation, the risks will be considerably increased and the budgets won’t be optimised. In any situation, you have to find the proper balance in terms of autonomy that works for your workforce, but keeping the status quo on this subject is the worst solution.”

 

Thanks for your time, Andréa. 

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Web Scraping in 2022 & Beyond

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Web scraping has been coming into the limelight in recent years due to the rising interest in data. Businesses across the globe have been eyeing automated data collection as a way to enhance their profitability and overall decision making.

We’ve sat down with the Lead of Commercial Product Owners at Oxylabs.io, Nedas Višniauskas, to talk about the future of web scraping. Few people have been as deeply involved with the industry as Nedas, which has allowed him to gain a unique perspective on how it has developed and how it will continue to do so.

What do you think has been the biggest change in web scraping over the last decade? How has Oxylabs participated in these changes?

There have been some interesting changes during the past few years. One of them, I think, has been the proliferation of increasingly sophisticated anti-bot systems. Scraping such websites at scale, in turn, becomes more difficult.

Scraping enthusiasts, of course, have their own answer to these issues, which is to develop dedicated data collection tools. These, while limiting the field of use, can bypass the anti-bot systems and they are constantly being updated for that purpose.

Another important change has been the rising popularity of JavaScript. More and more websites are using it to load critically important data dynamically, which means it’s essentially unreachable without browsers.

Headless ones, therefore, are a necessity. At the same time, that means infrastructure costs are rising as headless browsers take up much more computing power and traffic than simple HTTP requests.

Finally, ethics have been in the limelight. For example, residential proxy providers are looking for ways to inform and reward participants of the network. We ourselves took charge of building the framework for ethical acquisition, which, I believe, has played a part in the fact that there are less shady practices and more clarity among all industry participants.

To answer the second question, Oxylabs have reacted to these changes with the development of Scraper APIs. We created both dedicated and universal scrapers that can acquire publicly available data from nearly any website without issue. Additionally, all of our proxies are ethically sourced, giving our partners the much needed peace of mind when engaging in scraping.

Have you seen or noticed any particular trends in data acquisition or web scraping? Are specific data types becoming popular?

Off the cuff I’d say that the use of ecommerce and delivery data has been booming since the pandemic hit. Businesses want to (legally) spy on competitors and gain access to as much data as possible. Data types like pricing, products or delivery times are important to any competitor.

But these have always been important. Maybe I would say that external data in general has risen in importance. Outside of that, I don’t think there have been any particular trends in data types. There have been, however, changes in the entire supply chain. As I’ve mentioned, businesses only really need the data. Even then, the data is not the key – insights are.

As such, businesses at the tail-end of the chain have proliferated in recent years. Data-as-a-service aggregators, ones that collect information and sell sets of it, have been rising in popularity.

There are also some businesses that provide insights directly. While these are still few and far between, some of them have unique value propositions that I could see as worthwhile. Jungle Scout, for example, is a service that both scrapes external data and has large datasets from internal sources. As such, they can provide insights other businesses can’t.

What do you think are the biggest challenges the industry is facing currently? Are there any innovative solutions to these or other challenges on the horizon?

Bot protection has always been the greatest challenge. Scraping, you see, is a cat-and-mouse game. Websites attempt to implement anti-bot measures, such as the well-known CAPTCHA, while scraping companies attempt to continue evading them to retain access to data.

There have been great strides made in bot protection. TLS (Transport Layer Security) fingerprinting has been one such improvement. Sophisticated websites can use initial network handshakes to match them with headers. As many scraping tools manually modify the headers sent, TLS can often be mismatched, which would be a dead giveaway.

On the other hand, the deck is always slightly stacked in the favor of scraping. Most anti-bot protection features put a dent in the overall user experience. Filling in a CAPTCHA is something that detracts from that frictionless experience of the modern web we’re used to.

Some businesses use these techniques and see no issue. Others, ones highly concerned with delivering the best user experience possible, avoid using CAPTCHAs unless absolutely necessary. It’s always a tradeoff. More bot protection equals, almost always, worse UX, which leads to less revenue. But then less people are scraping your website.

Additionally, new pages with interesting data and content appear all the time. And you don’t start building a website from bot protection. It has to be functional first. So, the process of scraping is a lot easier than it could be for a long time.

Would you say that there are potential benefits in web scraping for academic research or policy-making? If so, why hasn’t the scientific or political community adopted the practice?

Academic research, quantitative in particular, is in large part based on data that doesn’t exist on the internet, yet. There could be studies, however, on internet behavior or something of the like where scraping could be immensely useful. Additionally, I think we’re not seeing such widespread adoption due to the previously mentioned barrier to entry.

Let’s imagine that there’s no previous scraping experience in some particular university. The researcher would have to build everything from the ground up, get all the deep knowledge, and the funding required just to start acquiring the data.

It doesn’t help that the research areas that benefit the most from scraping (like sociology, economics, psychology, etc.) are far removed from the coding, development, and IT in general. I think it’s more of an unfortunate, but temporary, circumstance, because web scraping providers will be able to reduce the barrier by a significant margin in the future.

When it comes to policy-making, I’m not so sure. I think that rather than making, it should be about enforcing. Governments are definitely knee-deep in web scraping for all kinds of security purposes. Businesses, on the other hand, have been using the same processes to protect themselves from counterfeits and copyright infringement. There’s an entire business vertical dedicated explicitly to brand protection.

 

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