Joanne runs us through the frustrations of remembering over-complicated passwords and how technology may make life a little easier whilst staying more secure

Password Rage

How many times have you struggled to recall your password or PIN number – whether logging in to a website or dialling into a call centre?  It’s become a regular frustration for most of us – as more and more services are moving online we have to remember a multitude of user names, passwords, security questions etc.   According to a recent survey by Centrify, the average person has to remember at least 19 passwords for logging into computers, email, online banking, social media, internet shopping and work accounts. 

If, like me, you are a serial offender when it comes to forgetting passwords, particularly for websites or services you don’t use very often, you’ll be able to identify with “password rage” – especially when asked to recall the fourth and eighteenth letter of your first pet’s middle name.   The same survey categorically demonstrated that I’m not alone – with respondents rating forgetting a password as more annoying than misplacing their keys, and a mobile phone battery dying.  Apparently one in six people have admitted that they cause disruption in the office by screaming or shouting if they can't remember their password, with one in seven moaning at work colleagues!

When we’ve calmed down after being instructed that, due to our own ineptitude, we have been locked out of our accounts, we then have to tackle the reset password process.  Sometimes this works smoothly, but more often than not I find myself frantically clicking the refresh button whilst waiting for the e-mail to land in my inbox, so I can actually finish what I was trying to do 20 minutes ago when my blood pressure was a lot lower. 

If verifying who we are is a pain for consumers, it’s even more of a headache for the service providers – whether online retailers, service providers such as banks or insurance companies and even governments.   Companies are collectively losing billions of pounds a year to fraud through identity theft and password hacks. In 2014 fraud in relation to telephone banking alone increased with losses soaring 20% to 13.4 million in 2014 from £11.6 million in 2013.

Much of this fraud is down to poor password management – with frustrated people indulging in risky password practice such as writing down passwords or using insecure four digit pins such as 1234 or 1111. If this sounds familiar - it would be a good idea to change your passwords!  According to a YouGov poll commissioned by HSBC, more than one third of UK consumers use the same password across most of their online accounts and more than half rarely update their passwords.

Organisations are now actively seeking an alternative to passwords and PINS to help improve customer service and to reduce the losses occurred through fraud. Biometrics looks set to be the new paradigm in user authentication. Biometrics helps identify individuals based on their physical or behavioural features. It involves verification and identification of physiological traits through fingerprints, face recognition, DNA, palm vein prints, hand geometry, and iris recognition, and of behavioural traits through keystroke patterns and speech pattern/voice recognition.

Voice biometrics is the one area which is gaining significant traction, particularly in the financial services sector.  It involves capturing and comparing a voice signature. Voice biometrics software identifies a person through their unique voiceprint – measuring characteristics such as pitch and rhythm to create a “fingerprint” or rather a “voiceprint” that is unique to that voice.  These voiceprints are made using voice biometrics technology that can analyses over 50 unique physical traits of the vocal tract, such as mouth shape and size, nasal passages, as well as behavioural factors including pronunciation, emphasis, speed of speech and accent. So a voice signature isn’t just a recording of a person’s voice which is then stored in a database, which could be stolen or reused just like a password or a pin, it’s a mathematical representation of features based on complex algorithms.

Recent developments in the performance and accuracy in voiceprint technology, and the fact that most mobile devices now have microphones, make voice biometrics a viable and more main stream option for customer authentication and fraud prevention.  It is gaining significant momentum around the world with the voice biometrics authentication market poised to grow from $200M (2013) to $750M globally in 2017.

Understandably, the financial services sector is leading the way as they have an ever increasing need to combat fraud whilst also providing their customers with high levels of security, privacy and convenience. Barclays Bank is already successfully using voice biometrics technology, with HSBC announcing earlier this year that they would be introducing voice recognition and touch security services.  In addition, voice biometrics has the potential to deliver significant cost savings by significantly reducing the amount of time call handlers spend on the phone with customers.

It could be a game changer for Government’s too as they look to move more and more services online. Being able to accurately identify and verify a citizen is crucial if governments want to successfully encourage citizens to self-service through digital platforms or call centres. Back in 2009, the Australian Government implemented a voice biometric solutions in their Social Security department and the Australian Tax Office has also recently embraced voice biometric technology, with over 1.5 million people having already enrolled a voice print.

From a consumer’s perspective, it seems that we are more than happy to embrace voice biometrics. The YouGov poll showed that 75% of 16 to 24-year-olds would have no problem using biometric security, with 69% expecting it to be faster and easier than a password or a PIN.  The same survey also found that 78% of more than 2,000 adult respondents were confident that their body is unique enough to be used as an identifier and 74% felt this would be the default password in future.

It looks like voice biometrics could help alleviate one of the ever expanding list of modern day frustrations – with password rage thankfully soon becoming a thing of the past. Now we just need to resolve road rage, trolley rage and the recently discovered wrapping rage – sadly no reflection on Kayne West’s musical talents – but rather the gargantuan struggle we face in opening packaging!