Could Biometrics Technology be the Future of eCommerce Security?

If you want to know where hackers will go next, follow the money.

These days, that direction leads to ecommerce. Online purchases comprised 16% of total retail sales in 2019, which was a 14.9% rise from the year before. The bottom line is that internet shopping has become comfortable for a growing number of people and that trend shows no signs of slowing down.

But one aspect of the online shopping experience that has undercut this growth, at least to some extent, is a disease with the state of security when shopping and checking out. The entire internet is becoming aware that the methods that have attempted to safeguard us in the past—usernames, passwords, and security questions—have become all too easy for the bad guys to break.

In order for ecommerce to continue grabbing an ever-larger market share, we need new ways to secure the process. For now, biometrics is leading the charge.

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What is Biometrics?

The idea behind biometrics as an identity tool is simple. Every human being has certain personal characteristics that are completely unique. This includes fingerprints, voice, eyes, blood vein patterns, facial recognition, and even the way you walk. The list goes on—although some of these characteristics are much easier to measure than others.

Fingerprint readers are the most common method of using biometrics to verify identity, with 57% of all enterprises that use biometrics relying on fingerprint identification technology. Nonetheless, we’re still early in the process of building out this tech, and in order for a biometric identity system to work, a customer would need to first provide their fingerprint to the site where they want to shop. When they make a purchase, their fingerprint will be compared to the one they initially submitted.

Today, all of the major ecommerce platforms provide for a variety of traditional security measures in place, including VPNs, firewalls, antivirus and anti-malware software.  However, incorporating biometrics into your security protocol will improve safety and privacy in several ways.

That being said, before ecommerce businesses can turn to biometrics as a best practice security tactic, manufacturers will have to include scanners in the devices shoppers use when they visit their favorite online store. The good news is that often this is as simple as installing an app, though these little critters aren’t without their own security baggage.

eCommerce Owners Will Love Biometrics

Biometrics can provide a number of important benefits to eCommerce business owners. 

Enhanced Security: As eCommerce grew substantially in 2019, so did the number of security risks. As noted above, biometrics can serve as an important component of security safeguards for your ecommerce business payment systems, in addition to PCI compliance, SSL encryption, firewalls, and managed hosting services.

No More Password Resets: Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to dedicate so much of your system resources to handling password and username resets when a customer forgets them? There is way too much time and energy spent in this area in support of a security method that isn’t really all that secure. Presuming you don’t have website users swapping out their fingers, thumbs, or other body parts, this is a set it and forget it system.

Competitive Advantage: We’ve long passed the point where simply accepting payments online was anything special. At this point in the Internet Age, biometrics have not yet achieved widespread adoption. That means that ecommerce stores that incorporate the technology will be seen as more “cutting edge” and safer than the competition that is still hopelessly unhip with their password/username combos.

Shoppers Will Learn to Love Biometric Identification

Not only does this next generation of cybersecurity strategy provide a more secure buying platform, but it will make life easier for shoppers as well. Here are a few of the most obvious improvements to be realized by switching to biometrics.

Easier Registration: In order to pay for something online with a debit or credit card, you’ll first need to create an account with the card issuer as well as the platform you’re shopping on. This takes time and pulls you out of the portal and away from your shopping cart. There’s a good chance you’ll get distracted by the process and not make it back the thing you had your heart set on five minutes ago.

Fewer Passwords: Ask any casual internet user you meet on the street if they would prefer to have more passwords to remember or fewer? It seems a safe bet that most would be in favor of the latter. Think of it. Rather than the daily battle to remember and, failing that, being forced to reset a dozen passwords every time you go online would disappear. Instead, press your thumb, eyeball, or nose to the device scanner and be on your way.

Biometrics Isn’t All Fortune and Glory

Before you get too carried away with the inherent possibilities in biometric security solutions, you should realize that there are a few flies in the soup. The thing to keep in mind here is that a biometric identity system is only as strong as its weakest link and that link is often the security in place around the database where all of this biodata is held.

This means appropriate firewalls, all internet connections protected by a VPN, and incident prevention and mitigation protocols in place. After all, if a hacker gets into the database all the scanners and unique fingerprints in the world won’t do a darn bit of good. This means eCommerce stores need to lock down their databases with all the standard security tools and deploy all the expert strategy recommendations.

Final Thoughts

Shopping cart abandonment is a big deal to ecommerce when it comes to lost potential profit. Online retailers see this kind of checkout interruption reach as high as 40% or more with a majority saying that having to remember authentication details (such as passwords) were the main reason they didn’t complete the order.

Anything that contributes to a more frictionless experience can’t help but cut into that number of lost shoppers and increased revenue, which is the ultimate goal. If you’re an online store owner who has been thinking about installing a biometrics option into your checkout process, think faster because you’re losing money every day you wait.

Sam Bocetta is a freelance journalist specializing in U.S. diplomacy and national security, with emphasis on technology trends in cyberwarfare, cyberdefense, and cryptography.