Barclays has revealed what it says is the future of fraud prevention in corporate banking with the Barclays Biometric Reader, a Hitachi-developed tool that uses "vein authentication technology" to ensure secure customer authentication for corporate transactions.
Revealed at an event at the bank's Canary Wharf headquarters, the biometric reader was described by Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays personal and corporate banking, as a "very, very exciting development" that will be available to corporate clients from 2015.
"It's very, very simple, yet it's very, very secure," Vaswani said of the device, which is designed to sit on a desk and connect to a computer via USB. The biometric reader authenticates transactions by reading the blood inside the user's finger, something Barclays and Hitachi say is almost impossible to replicate, therefore drastically reducing the potential for fraud.
"We're using very advanced technology that doesn't capture a fingerprint, it actually captures the photographic view of the blood in the veins of your finger," said Vaswani, who argued the technique is far more secure than fingerprint scanning.
"Fingerprinting isn't as secure as this. This has been demonstrated to be the most distinguishable feature for any person, so it provides the highest level of security."
The bank also told the audience that because of the way it works - scanning the user's finger - it's also quicker, easier and more efficient than existing authentication techniques such as the PIN.
"Obviously this will help ease of access - how many times have people forgotten their password? Everybody knows how painful it is to get passwords reset," said Vaswani, who described the biometric scanner as "so simple that nothing really happens, you put your finger in and you sign on."
Vein authentication technology works by scanning the finger with near-infrared (NIR) light. Barclays says it has tested the technology stringently, claiming that it would take a fraudster a million attempts to even have a chance of stealing or redirecting funds.
Michael Mueller, managing director of Barclays corporate banking division, demonstrated the biometric reader in action, showing how the vein authentication technology works almost instantly.
"It's a very simple device from the outset," he said.
Mueller emphasised that Barclays does not store biometric data in its servers. Rather, the data is stored within the device itself.
"The NIR light goes through your finger and registers your vein pattern and that will be stored on a SIM card and the SIM card will remain in the device," he said, adding: "Is Barclays storing biometric data? The answer to that is no, we're not storing the data. The pattern of what your finger generates stays in the device."
Mueller argued the biometric scan offers a two-factor authentication system in a similar way to the combination of PINs and passwords that banks currently use. But he said vein authentication technology provides greater simplicity and greater security.
"What are the advantages? Legacy or existing security applications would be two-factor, we're doing the same thing here. This works in a very similar way, the two things are your SIM card and your finger," he said.
"You can't forget your finger, while PIN numbers can be forgotten or shared, which represents a security risk. The application only works if your finger is attached to your body, because otherwise there's no blood flow and there's no pattern to read," Mueller pointed out, somewhat morbidly.
"We're confident in the security of this device, but the interesting thing is it's secure and it's user friendly as well - it's simple to use. Typically when you upgrade security, you introduce complexity, you need to do something else to make it more secure. This doesn't do any of that, it simply uses the blood flow in your finger to give you access to what you need to do," he explained.
"It's so simple it doesn't wow anyone; it's a simple intuitive process for customers that opens up a whole range of opportunities. We're excited about using biometrics to create value for our customers by making their lives easier," Mueller concluded.
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