The software that’s checking you are who you say you are
Security technology is helping Australian companies combat the scourge of identity theft by making it easier to recognize customers through voice biometric signatures.
Hoaxers phoning a call centre, for example, could now be caught out just by the sound of their voice.
Vendors such as Nuance or ValidSoft are incorporating voice biometrics into their call centre technologies so companies such as banks can filter out suspicious calls.
The software, part of a growing suite of biometric security technologies being deployed for physical and online security, is already so accurate it can tell twins apart and catch hoaxers even through the hiss and crackle of background noise on a bad mobile line.
It aims to overcome challenges associated with traditional forms of identity verification, such as usernames and passwords, which can be compromised by hoaxers.
According to Australian government figures, identity theft affects around five per cent of people in the country every year and costs $2.2 billion to victims, businesses, and government agencies. Someone is impersonated every 20 seconds.
This plague is spreading in part thanks to the ease with which criminals are able to access personal details online and enact large scale data breaches. Emails, addresses, and phone numbers are readily available to hackers in online marketplaces, and passwords are often easy to crack.
A person’s voice, on the other hand, is practically impossible to feign, thanks to the unique characteristics of the mouth, nose, and throat. By analysing the multiple factors that make up each person’s voiceprint, software can identify a caller within seconds.
The contact-centre software vendor Nuance says its Identifier system can perform 200,000 voice biometric comparisons per second and complete large‑scale searches on millions of audio files within minutes.
In the unlikely event that the system cannot match a voice to a customer, it will send an alert to a call-centre handler requesting an alternative form of identity confirmation, such as phoning the customer back on the number they have on file.
This technology is already delivering significant benefits. In New Zealand, for example, the Department of Inland Revenue has been using voiceprinting technology since 2012. This has already helped facilitate an additional 12,000 self-service transactions a month.
The experience there shows how voiceprinting is about much more than just catching impersonators. Being able to confirm identity via voice means username and passwords can be dispensed, reducing pressure on customer-service departments resulting in positive onflow affects like reducing wait-times and business costs.
Nevertheless, “this is very powerful, invisible security that will be immensely useful in the battle against fraud and ID theft,” says Pat Carroll, executive chairman and chief executive officer at ValidSoft.
“Voice biometric technology makes it easier for the genuine customer to access their data whilst providing the capabilities to keep the bad guys out.”
With voiceprinting now a mature technology, and voice activation commonplace in consumer devices such as Amazon’s Echo speaker, the scene is set for voiceprints to be used more widely alongside other biometric methods in physical security. National Australia Bank, ANZ and even the Australian Taxation Office are onboard with voiceprinting too, utilising its authentication capabilities. Barclays Bank have even provided fraud evidence utilising voice biometrics, resulting in criminal convictions.
In some situations, voiceprinting may be more effective than biometric alternatives.
A viable alternative
Voiceprinting could be used in environments where other biometric security measures, like eye-scan cameras, might be compromised. It also makes authentication accessible where users might have problems providing biology due to disabilities etc.
One example of how voiceprinting is spreading comes from Canada, where the Border Services Agency is rolling out a scheme that could allow up to 10,000 immigrants to check in remotely rather than having to be kept in detention.
The wider adoption of biometric measures such as voiceprinting is expected to be one of the top five trends in the Australian security industry this year.
In 2016, the analyst firm Stratistics MRC predicted the global next-generation biometrics market would see a compound annual growth rate of 10.4 per cent, reaching more than US$29.37 billion by 2022. This is to say, we’ll be hearing a lot more about voiceprinting in the future.
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