Friday, 6 March 2015

Sensory Overload at Mobile World Congress 2015

I had a serious case of sensory overload whilst at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona earlier this week. I was lucky enough to attend the annual mobilefest as a GSMA Global Mobile Awards Judge. Congratulations to Samsung's Knox Workspace solution for winning the Best Security / Anti-fraud product or solution category.

The world's largest mobile show has morphed into a serious CES competitor. It no longer showcases purely mobile technology but now has everything from wearables, virtual reality headsets, connected cars, home automation devices and even smart toothbrushes. This is because the smartphone has become the remote control and smart hub of our lives - the prime device for all of our digital interactions. As such, proving identity on mobile devices has become an essential building block for enabling our ability to securely transact and communicate. 

Biometrics is quickly becoming an essential component for strong and convenient authentication on smart mobile and wearable devices and this was very much in evidence at MWC during my visit. 

I cannot mention all of the biometric technologies that were being showcased at MWC 2015 as it would take me an age (it is an indication of how strong the appetite is to integrate biometrics onto mobile and wearable devices). What I can do is to give you a flavour of what I was able to see and brief thoughts on what I think of them.

I met up with Fingerprint Cards (FPC) who were showcasing their latest generation of small area size touch capacitive fingerprint sensors. Along with Synaptics, they are one of the few fingerprint sensor manufacturers to be actually integrated into the current crop of smartphones and phablets. Their latest touch sensors are available in a variety of form factors and meet the needs of mobile OEMs who want choice in how they integrate the sensor; either in the home button, at the front of a smartphone, at the rear below the camera or even in the side of the device. I was particularly impressed at the sensor located on the side of a smartphone; it felt natural to use and even doubled up as slide volume controller. 

The mobile fingerprint sensor sector is really heating up with competition from manufacturers all over the world, from China, Taiwan, Korea and Norway. I am also seeing potential disruption from a couple of US-based sensor designers who are using ultrasound technology to create a 3D fingerprint image for authentication. I witnessed the demonstration of Qualcomm's Snapdragon Sense ID ultrasonic 3D fingerprint sensor and believe that it could offer a realistic challenge to the current crop of optical and capacitive sensors. Qualcomm claim to have devices with the Sense ID being shipped Q3 2015. A competitor to the Qualcomm ultrasonic sensor is Florida-based Sonavation, who were not at MWC 2015 but whom I spoke with recently. I am looking forward in meeting them and finding out more about their technology whilst speaking at the Connect ID conference in Washington later this month.  

Fingerprint biometrics has been the dominant modality for mobile integration so far but my belief is that they will be joined by other technologies; either directly competing against or being combined as part of a multi-modal implementation. Evidence of this trend was on show at MWC 2015 with announcements from EyeVerify, whose Eye Vein technology was being integrated onto the latest ZTE smart mobile device, the ZTE Grand S3. I had a demo of EyeVerify's Eyeprint ID on the ZTE stand and was impressed at its accuracy and performance. The majority of phones now being shipped have a front-facing camera that is good-enough to support EyeVerify's technology which means that you are not reliant on the mobile OEM to integrate a dedicated biometric sensor. 

Voice is another modality that is successfully being integrated into mobile devices for authentication and I met up with one of the leading vendors in this space, Agnitio. They were showcasing the latest version of their KIVOX Mobile solution, 5.0. Voice can have a problem with replay and spoofing but Agnitio's solution has built-in anti-spoofing features that prevent these types of attack. Being one of the first members of the FIDO Alliance means that their device-centric (strong privacy) model ensures that voice templates never leave the device. The solution can also support natural-speech modes meaning that the user interaction for authentication is as natural and frictionless as possible. 

The ability to securely store biometric data on a smart mobile device is an essential facet of trust for the biometric authentication system. Trustonic leverages a device's in-built Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) (based on ARMs Trustzone architecture) to allow sensitive biometric data to be stored. It also supports secure execution of any biometric functions away from the more open (and easily accessible) parts of the device's operating system. I met up with this UK-based company who walked me through the company's Developer Program; an initiative that supports service providers and authentication vendors by allowing them to create mobile apps that utilise the TEE in supporting devices. 

Another year over at MWC and another trip to my local shoe repairer to get the soles of my shoes replaced. Hopefully they will be in good working order for Connect ID in Washington later this month and another monster show in late April - RSA Conference 2015. The authentication and identity revolution gathers pace and I am excited to be a part of it.

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