Only Some Biometrics Security Will Be Automotive Solutions

One of the main applications for vehicle biometrics lies within enhanced security enabling a vehicle user to unlock the car with a thumbprint, or facial recognition software to authenticate authorized drivers.

Korean automaker Hyundai will give drivers the 2019 Santa Fe SUV the ability to leave keys behind because they will be able to open, lock doors and the start engine with just a touch of a fingertip. Meanwhile, a patent tech giant Apple filed in 2017 and published earlier this month describes a technology that could create a vehicle unlock system using biometric authentication.

“There are a few things that are in development, like fingerprint access, but there’s not that much of a take-up in terms of vehicles out there at the moment,” Juniper Research senior analyst James Moar told TU-Automotive. “There are a couple of companies like Hyundai that is close to rolling these types of technologies out but that’s still quite early days.” Moar explained that when it comes to technologies like facial recognition, those types of technologies farther off in terms of actual features to be found on production vehicles.

Biometrics could also provide an additional layer of security once occupants are inside a vehicle and provide an additional layer of authentication for commercial vehicles and emergency service vehicles like ambulances and police cars. Moar noted automakers like BMW and Tesla are trying to leapfrog the hardware requirements of biometric security by supplying smartphone connectivity and offering biometric authentication through the phone. “It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s one of the first applications that arrives because you don’t need to introduce new hardware into the environment,” he said.

When it comes to voice-based biometric security, Moar noted standards still aren’t up to the level they need to be in terms of authentication, which means voice-based features will likely be limited to infotainment applications for the foreseeable future. More sophisticated biometric technologies, like iris scanning, also have limited applications in vehicles because of where cameras would need to be placed, though there could be use cases for drivers once they’re seated in the cockpit area. “I don’t think you’ll see iris scanning being widely rolled out. You’ll have a more broadly focused camera that can scan the whole face,” he said.

Overall, Moar thinks that while there will certainly be integration of biometric technology in consumer vehicles, it remains to be seen what the actual consumer demand for these types of security features will be. “It would relieve people from the burden of forgetting their keys but, given the mixed reaction we’ve seen for things like keyless cars, biometrics would be seen as more of an option alongside more traditional technologies,” Moar said.

If car owners find it safe and convenient to use facial scans and fingerprints they’ll start using their fingerprint instead of the keys but Moar expects that to take some time. “Unless you put biometrics on the key car, you can’t do remote access the same way you would with a key fob which is almost like going backwards to when you still need a key to open the car,” he pointed out.

Alan Goode, CEO and chief analyst at Goode Intelligence, said the threat of a car being hacked into by manipulating biometric system architectures or data means biometric platforms should offer iron clad security in order for consumers to fully trust in its abilities. “Software within the car’s biometrics systems will need a continual stream of updates and refinements as the hackers create different ways of getting in,” Goode said. “OEMs need to test out their biometric solutions against known certified presentation attack programs and make sure they are spoof and attack resistant.”

Goode said a decentralized model of biometric security, whereby biometric data is stored on a piece of secure hardware (in this case the vehicle itself), would be well suited to automotive applications. “It’s very difficult to get information out of that kind of architecture,” Goode noted. “That information is pretty secure, if you store the data in the car itself.”

The effort to secure biometric identification platforms and their derived authentication methods is a wide and challenging endeavor, said Matan Scharf, automotive solutions senior manager for Synopsis. “This is true when looking at it not only from the anti-tamper and hack proofing a system but also as a potential legal liability and privacy concern,” he explained. That means parts of the solution must be integrated at the hardware level which should offer root trust enclaves that separate sensitive applications and data from other, less security sensitive, applications.

Scharf also explained cabin-based biometrics, which can provide a second layer of authentication, would be useful to car-sharing services or other situations where an additional layer of security is required to start the vehicle. “As we look at the future of the automotive industry and the prospect of on-demand services, car sharing and smart mobility applications, a unique need will arise for implementing secure acquisition of identity and trusted process for revoking enrollment,” he said.

When it comes to mainstream adoption of biometric security in consumer vehicles, Goode noted the long research and development phase means the rollout will happen slowly, with the first phase of adoption occurring in tandem with smartphone-based security solutions. “Just under 39 million cars will ship with integrated, in-car biometric sensors by 2023,” Goode said. “If you look at the supply chain now, suppliers like Continental and Bosch already have solutions they’re showcasing. It will, eventually, become ubiquitous in some form or another.”

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.

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