Technology

Travel is starting to wake up to biometrics, says HYPR chief

Posted by Ben Irelandon
Travel is starting to wake up to biometrics, says HYPR chief

The technology that viewers of Star Trek gazed at in wonder is now normal. And although we aren’t all travelling at lightspeed (yet) we are using our physical features to log in to devices and prove who we are.

Biometrics are going mainstream in travel, says George Avetisov, CEO of cyber security firm HYPR who believes it’s going to play a bigger role than scanning your passport in the security queue at Barcelona airport.

Some airlines are already linking boarding passes to touch ID and facial recognition and Avetisov thinks it’s the start of a curve.

“You are going to see a lot more of this,” he told Travolution.

“Biometrics are all about user experience. Until now, we’ve been using them to open our phones, but as we get used to these things they will be seen more and more. In some cases, they seem very futuristic, but people are getting over that.”

He said user experience is the key. “When you’ve used it you never want to go back to passwords,” Avetisov said and he believes regulation of biometrics won’t make it happen. “Companies will.

“In banking, it wasn’t regulation,” he continued. “It was Apple Pay.

“The same thing is already happening in the travel industry. Airlines want passengers to get on planes faster, hoteliers want guests check in to their hotel faster – and they all want to do this without the use of passwords.”

Big hotel chains, such as Hilton, have already moved into ‘digital keys’ on smart phones rather than the traditional key card. And Avetisov thinks this will move over into biometrics within five years.

“You won’t check-in anymore, in the traditional sense,” he said. “Hotels spend a lot of money and time building up the key card infrastructure, so it’s going to take a few years and we are going to see a top-down approach.”

So what type of biometrics will be next for the travel space?

Avetisov says that, currently, 64% of biometrics used are fingerprint, 18% are facial recognition and 9% either eye or voice activated. “The rest” are behavioural, which he described as “next gen”.

He says biometrics are proven to speed up customer service, but warned that there are some areas in which companies are still unsure of their security. “They are unsure of how to store the biometrics data,” he explained, asking: “Do you really want a centralised database of everybody’s fingerprints and eye scans? Do you want to own that data?”

The point is, when companies centralize their biometrics, they become responsible for its security. So if it were to be breached, they’d be liable. This follows a number of recent cyber attacks in the travel sector, such as Abta, and government bodies including the NHS. The result of the 2016 US general election is still embroiled in controversy over the alleged involvement of Russian hackers.

“I don’t want to be selling fear here,” Avetisov said. “But it’s only a matter of time until it happens again.”

That’s why HYPR is concentrating on de-centralised biometrics, which means they don’t store their customers’ data.

The solution? Avetisov says mobile. “No company is responsible for the data that way,” he says. “Biometrics are stored on devices. All the user has to do is hold on to their device.”

He also said travel firms should not put all their eggs in one basket, and make sure passwords are still available – even if only as a back-up when a phone runs out of battery. “It’s not about which biometric solution is going to win out,” he said, making the point that touch doesn’t work for people driving cars and facial recognition struggles in dark places. “It’s about which is going to be best for the situation.”

So the rise of biometrics might not be travelling at lightspeed just yet, but watch this space.

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