Voice biometrics wins cautious early acceptance

News by Richard Thurston

Consumers are warming to the idea of using their voice to gain access to their private information, but widespread concerns persist

Consumers are warming to the idea of using their voice for authentication to their private personal information, according to a survey of over 500 UK individuals.

Nearly 80% of survey respondents said they would use so-called voice biometrics if given the choice. Of those, over half believed that using their voice to authenticate themselves would offer better security than using traditional methods, such as a PIN, password or other memorable information.

The biggest reason they gave for their interest is combating identity theft, but other reasons for using the technology included saving time speaking to a call centre and not having to remember a PIN or password.

The survey was carried out by market research firm Harris Interactive, and was commissioned by speech recognition company Nuance, which is extending into voice biometrics.

But the future of voice authentication is not all rosy. Many survey respondents said they already refuse point blank to use automated authentication. They were also worried about fraud, in particular the chance that someone might record their voice and play it back elsewhere, and the fact someone might pretend to be them.

Two in five respondents said they thought voice biometrics was less than secure, but only 4% said they had used the technology.

Chuck Buffum, vice president of authentication solutions for Nuance, said: "I wouldn't say it's impossible to fake someone's voice, but it is extremely difficult. People vary in their vocal tract, how fast they speak, their cadence: there are dozens of features in your voice print."

Buffum said that biometrics would successfully identify the caller in about nine out of ten cases. He said that level could be tweaked, alongside the number of false positives and negatives, but that there was a trade-off between them.

He advised that enterprises should consider voice biometrics alongside other forms of authentication, such as something the user knows and something they have.

Jennifer Axelrad, EMEA director of enterprise product marketing for Nuance added that voice had many benefits over other biometric solutions. "It's lower cost, it doesn't need additional user equipment, it's less intrusive and you can't forget it," she said.

Nuance revealed today that three UK banks were proceeding with plans to launch voice biometric solutions early in 2009.

The company also said that the technology was being used in some parts of the UK to track young offenders. Each night, the monitored individuals are expected to call a special telephone number from their home landline to identify that they have observed their evening curfew.

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