Iris Recognition: Passwordless Security

Iris recognition

In today’s digital world, security plays a crucial role. Passwords are increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks, especially if they are used as the only method of identification. Today, it is necessary to incorporate a second factor of authentication (2FA) to improve security levels.

This is where iris recognition comes in–a technique that uses unique characteristics of the human eye for identity verification. It is highly secure, effective and users don’t need to remember any password. 

Read below to understand how iris recognition works, its advantages over traditional security measures, its impact on the industry and its current practical applications.

How iris recognition works

Iris recognition technology, also known as iris scanning, uses complex algorithms to analyze the unique patterns in an individual’s iris. The iris is the muscle in the eye that controls the amount of light reaching the retina. It also determines the color of the eye, which depends on the amount of melanin it contains.

How? The scanner illuminates the iris with infrared light to take a photograph of each eye’s unique patterns, which are invisible to the naked eye. A specialized camera records the position of the pupil, iris, eyelids and eyelashes. As a result, a unique mathematical pattern is obtained for each eye, which is then digitized. For identification (1:N) or authentication (1:1), the comparison is made using a template created with the iris image stored in the database.

As with other biometrics, the value of the iris recognition technique lies in the impossibility of replicating the iris. Studies conducted since the 1930s confirm not only that each individual has a different iris pattern, but also that it is statistically impossible to copy. This, combined with the fact that iris recognition can be applied to people who are blind, have cataracts, have had eye surgery or even wear contact lenses, makes it an extremely reliable authentication method.

Advantages and disadvantages of iris recognition

Unlike combinations of words and numbers that are easy to forget, a person’s eyes serve as a constant identifier that cannot be lost or stolen. This is undoubtedly its main advantage.

In addition, iris scanning systems provide effortless access control. Traditional methods require active participation, such as entering a code or inserting a key, while iris recognition simply requires looking at a sensor. On the other hand, it eliminates the need for physical contact with security devices, reducing the risk of spreading infections or viruses.

Recent technological advances have made it possible to capture irises from up to 10 meters away, which is a major breakthrough from one of their main disadvantages. Previously, it was impossible to photograph the iris if the person was more than one meter away from the scanner.Although it is a widely used technology around the world, it is not exempt from being circumvented. A presentation attack with a high-definition image of the iris can fool the scanner. Also, a poor quality scanner can be affected by movement or lack of illumination. Finally, installing a scanner can be more expensive than other biometric authentication methods, such as fingerprints.

Smart Technology

Iris recognition technology is already available in some mobile devices–Samsung was the first of the major manufacturers to add this functionality for user authentication and device unlocking, and competitors such as Apple, Google or Huawei are expected to follow suit.

However, iris scanning still faces some challenges to become the main authentication method in mobile devices. The main one is the lack of control over image capture conditions. Iris recognition relies on stable background illumination, which can be difficult on a mobile device, causing frustration for users. Another challenge is related to the processing power of the devices, which cannot work the algorithm needed to correctly identify and authenticate the iris, causing delays.

But iris scanning can be implemented as a second authentication factor in the identity verification process, especially for applications with sensitive information such as banks, for example.

Fintech & Fraud Prevention

In the financial technology, or fintech industry, iris recognition is increasingly used as an identity validation tool, especially by online banking applications, due to its growing cost-effectiveness. This has also led to its implementation in the prevention of fraud in the delivery of social benefits. One example is Aadhaar, the world’s largest biometric database created by the Government of India, which has helped reduce fraud in the delivery of welfare benefits. Other countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and Mexico have done something similar after seeing India’s success.

Border Security

Undoubtedly an excellent candidate for the use of iris scanning as a biometric security method. Non-invasive, highly accurate and quick to implement, iris recognition has been used in airports, border and corporate security services for about 20 years. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Canada and the United States, also use it to determine whether visa applicants are who they say they are.


While iris recognition has been used in the above industries for several years now, it is new to the healthcare sector. Why? Let’s see.

It allows healthcare providers to identify patients quickly and easily. The World Health Organisation (WHO) listed effective identification as one of nine priorities for improving patient protection. Iris recognition presents itself as an excellent option when a person is unable to provide data to validate their identity due to diseases or disabilities that affect communication.

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