Voice targeted as a possible password replacement
MONTREAL - With passwords and PINs increasingly being targeted by hackers, speaking could become a new method to access secure accounts.
Voice biometrics — technology that knows who you are based on your voice characteristics — is already being used by banks and telecom companies globally for better security, says Brett Beranek of software company Nuance Communications.
"Our voices are unique to us, just like our DNA or our fingerprints or our iris," says Beranek, solutions marketing manager at U.S.-based Nuance's Montreal office.
Beranek says one of the first ways consumers will likely be exposed to voice biometrics is through mobile apps for banking.
"Typing in an alpha-numeric password to access your bank app is a pain, to say the least," he says.
"Saying something like, 'My voice, my password' just makes a lot of sense."
Customers may also find using their voice easier than remembering complicated passwords, or being asked personal questions to identify themselves, he says.
Nuance's voice biometric algorithm can measure more than 100 voice characteristics to identify someone, Beranek says, adding the size and shapes of people's larynx, teeth, tongues and sinuses all make their voices unique.
"If we've heard your voice in the past, we can create a voice print and each subsequent time we hear your voice, we can compare a freshly made voice print with a stored voice print."
TD Waterhouse uses voice biometrics in its call centre, Beranek says, while other Nuance clients include Barclays Wealth, Wells Fargo, Eastern Bank and brokerage firm Vanguard in the U.S.
If a hacker accesses a database of voice prints the "worst thing they could do is delete those voice prints and prevent customers from getting access to their accounts," Beranek says.
There have been recent high-profile hacking cases involving PINs and passwords.
Discount retailer Target has said that debit-card PINs were among the financial information stolen from millions of customers who shopped at the retailer last December.
In February, Bell Canada said that 22,400 of its small business customers had their account information compromised when an Ottawa-based third-party supplier had its systems hacked.
Analyst Dan Miller of U.S.-based Opus Research says voice biometrics diminish hacking threats.
More banks and financial services firms are expected to adopt voice biometrics this year with the next wave of use coming from health-care, governments and retail, says Miller, senior analyst at the San Francisco firm.
"I see at least a billion-dollar market over the next three years," he says.
But Deloitte Canada analyst Duncan Stewart says there are concerns that voice pass-phrases could be stolen and voices duplicated.
"That is almost certainly true but when it comes to authentication, passwords can also be hacked," says Stewart, director of research in technology, media and telecommunications.
Stewart says it's challenging to enter complicated passwords on smartphones, resulting in people having "really, really simple" passwords on their phones and leaving them vulnerable.
Nuance does have competitors such as Toronto's VoiceTrust and ValidSoft in the United Kingdom.