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Envisioning a world beyond passwords

By Mark Nelsen, Senior Vice President, Risk and Authentication Products • Visa

November 21, 2016

Technology has solved so many of life’s little frustrations—from mailing your bills to waiting for a taxi. So why are we still fumbling with clunky passwords, which are easy to forget or mistype and vulnerable to theft?

With biometrics, all that is changing. By using the measurable human traits unique to each and every one of us, we have new tools for secure, accurate and convenient authentication. And that is making a password-free world more and more possible.

Here’s a look at what Visa is doing to hasten the password’s demise:

Taking passwords out of the equation

The proliferation of sophisticated mobile devices, equipped with fingerprint sensors and high-quality cameras, has triggered a surge in biometrics. Millions of consumers are using a biometric to make mobile wallet payments or to access their mobile banking app. And while a fingerprint or iris scan is more secure than a static password, these devices still have a weak link in the chain: the option to bypass the biometric with a password or PIN.

Today, the “password bypass” is a necessary design feature. A fingerprint sensor might not work when your finger is wet; facial recognition may fail in extreme lighting; and voice detection is difficult on a noisy subway platform. In those scenarios, there must be an alternative method for users to access their account. To truly say good-bye to the password, we need a better backup.

Visa hooked up with BioConnect, a biometric identity platform provider, to demonstrate an authentication experience that avoids this password pitfall and that works across many devices and operating systems. By enabling multiple biometric technologies, an app can prompt for another biometric type when the default method fails. What does this mean in practice? Imagine you’re heading home from the gym and want to check your account balance on your bank’s mobile app. But your fingers are a bit damp from exercise and the fingerprint sensor can’t get a good read. What then? With the Visa/BioConnect technology collaboration, presented on the mainstage at this year’s Money20/20, you can use an alternative biometric, such as speaking into your phone’s microphone to authenticate by voice, giving you a convenient, keyboard-less alternative to entering a complex alphanumeric passcode. With multiple types of biometrics supported by an app, it becomes possible to make the password a thing of the past.

Now imagine that you dropped and broke your phone or simply want to purchase the newest model or change your device type. Getting a new gadget is fun. But manually reloading your payment information and login credentials so you can your new gadget? Not fun. Our collaboration introduces an elegant alternative, one that, for example, enables your newly downloaded mobile banking application to identify and authenticate you by using one of your previously enrolled biometrics. Because the technology can work across multiple devices, you would simply sign in using the biometric to gain access to your data, without need for a keyboard, password, or setup—all possible in the first few moments of unwrapping your new device.

Biometrics, for everyone everywhere

Enabling a wide range of authentication capabilities is an extension of Visa’s broader strategy: to make payments more secure and convenient for everyone, everywhere. This approach means taking into account the unique preferences, habits and cultural attitudes of our billions of cardholders around the globe. It means factoring in the needs and capabilities of our stakeholders in different markets, and providing flexible solutions that work in a range of contexts. In short, there is no global, one-size-fits-all approach, which is why Visa is not choosing a single biometric solution or implementation. Rather we’re focused on enabling a broad range of technologies to address the varied needs of Visa’s clients and cardholders worldwide.

We’re excited about the tremendous progress happening in biometrics and authentication. And while we have some of the best minds in the industry working to make the process more secure and seamless, it will take time until we can fully eliminate PINs and passwords, since they are integral to payment infrastructure in many countries. Visa will continue to support and strengthen those means of authentication, while looking for new ways to incorporate biometric technologies and forging new ground in the world beyond passwords.

This blog post was originally published on Visa.com.

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