A Primer to Enterprise Behavioral Biometrics and Why You Need Them

A Primer to Enterprise Behavioral Biometrics and Why You Need Them

For the future of your enterprise’s identity security, you can’t stop at physical biometric authentication. You must also deploy behavioral biometrics to truly verify each user and their accounts.

Behavioral biometrics provides a new avenue for enterprises’ authentication schemes. Generally, biometric authentication factors do not face the same problems as more traditional passwords.

For example, users can forget or lose their passwords, potentially compromising their accounts to hackers or insider threats. Meanwhile, users can’t exactly forget their fingerprints or lose them barring serious accident.

In addition, unlike other two-factor authentication schemes, hackers can’t interfere or intercept biometric factors. Biometrics can also help establish the access request context, which passwords and hard tokens don’t. It also offers another factor to multifactor authentication and step-up authentication; generally, the more factors between the requester and the network the better.   

However, physical biometric authentication can still present unique challenges to your identity security. Behavioral biometrics allows enterprises to implement rolling zero-trust authentication on users as they fulfill your business processes.

What Are Behavioral Biometrics?

In next-generation identity and access management, logins require more than passwords (something the user knows.) Often, they also ask for something the user has in their possession such as a hard token in traditional schemes.

At its core, biometric authentication takes the latter to the next level. With it, users can now use their fingerprints, irises, faces, or voices to verify their identities. As a result, biometric authentication receives a reputation for convenience. After all, users always possess these authentication factors and can usually input them when prompted without fuss.

Moreover, biometrics enjoy far more popularity than passwords, and for good reason; even an inexperienced hacker can crack or guess most passwords. Of course, their efforts are bolstered by users frequently reusing their passwords or selecting weak ones such as “123456.” In addition, hackers often use lists of previously stolen passwords to supplement their credential stuffing attacks.

In contrast, behavioral biometrics uses a more abstract factor in its authentication—the users’ own human behaviors on their endpoints. Measurable behaviors can include keystroke dynamics, mouse use, signature analysis (when appropriate), and cognitive biometrics.

Let’s look at these in more detail.

Types of Behavioral Biometrics

Of course, this list does not constitute an extensive list of possible behavioral factors for identity authentication. However, this list can help you think about your own authentication policies. How does your identity security solution compare? Do you utilize these factors already? If not, can you incorporate them?

Keystroke Dynamics:  This refers to the measurements of a user’s typing behaviors and patterns. IAM solution providers, such as Optimal IdM, contend typing patterns often prove just as unique as fingerprints. It can monitor how people type certain words, how fast, etc.

Mouse Dynamics: This resembles keystroke dynamics, but instead measuring the clicks and movements of the mouse. Your IT security team may be surprised by how individual every user is on their endpoints.

Signature Analysis: This refers to software in which a user can physically sign a digital copy of a document with their finger or a stylus. The analytics engine recognizes the distinct time-to-motion in a baseline signature and thus recognizes discrepancies if they occur.

Cognitive Biometrics: Perhaps the most abstract of abstract factors, cognitive biometrics includes your everyday actions on the network.

For example, if every day you begin by checking up on email communications, the engine recognizes that behavior. Then it establishes the behavior as a baseline, with which it monitors for discrepancies. Therefore, if a hacker impersonates you and immediately tries to access a sensitive database, the IAM solution will detect a possible security event and block the access.

Now that we more fully understand the “what” of behavioral biometrics, one question remains: why?

Why Behavioral Biometrics?

We established above some of the many, many problems with passwords. Suffice to say, the majority of enterprise data breaches begin with stolen, single factor credentials.   

However, the power of behavioral biometrics extends beyond security and convenience. In fact, this species of biometrics offers something which few other authentication factors can provide: continuous authentication.

As a rule, enterprises should operate under the Zero Trust identity security model. This means you should never trust any access request, even from previously approved users, with verifying first. Your enterprise should treat any entity (human or non-human) connecting to its environment as untrusted until it can prove otherwise.

For many enterprises’ identity and access management, Zero Trust can resemble a TSA checkpoint; users have to go through multiple security checks before even approaching the plane, and they still must present their ticket at the gate.

However, hackers can still exploit some fundamental weak spots in typical authentication. Even the most advanced physical biometrics still operate on a binary model—either authenticated or not. It still constitutes a one-time question—a simple yes or no.

External threat actors can absolutely take advantage of this binary system. For example, a hacker could wait for an employee to log in before taking malicious control of their access. Once in, without some kind of check, hackers can wreak havoc on your digital assets.

As another example, hackers could steal an employee’s endpoint and use their saved login information.     

Conversely, behavioral biometrics constantly affirm the user still falls within baseline behaviors. While the hacker may still penetrate your IT environment, their behaviors will so blatantly differ from the legitimate user’s it should trigger your identity security protocols.

Get Your Identity Security In Order

The heart and soul of identity and access management lie with your authentication. The stronger you make your authentication, the stronger your enterprise will be against external and internal threat actors.

Behavioral biometrics enables your authentication to monitor your users continuously rather than just at the entry. It establishes a baseline set of behaviors which enables your identity security to recognize hackers posing as your legitimate users.

If you want to learn more about biometric authentication and its diversity, you should check out our 2019 Buyer’s Guide. We list the top vendors in the market, their key capabilities, and our Bottom Line on each.

Ben Canner

Ben Canner is an enterprise technology writer and analyst covering Identity Management, SIEM, Endpoint Protection, and Cybersecurity writ large. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from Clark University in Worcester, MA. He previously worked as a corporate blogger and ghost writer. You can reach him via Twitter and LinkedIn.
Ben Canner