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Ahead of the Curve Auto Supplier Blog

March 05, 2019

Biometric Authentication – A Replacement for Passwords and Keys?

Biometrics represent the final frontier of security—authenticating the user based on who she is, rather than what she knows (e.g., a password) or what she possesses (e.g., a key fob). A recent patent publication by Apple raised an interesting issue: will traditional tools for vehicle access be replaced by smartphones that gather and authenticate biometric data? 

Apple’s Approach
A recently published patent application by Apple (linked here) describes the security risks associated with most conventional key fobs. In addition to being vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks, key fobs are easily misplaced and stolen, representing a low level of security. 
Apple’s solution? Requiring biometric data of the driver as one component of a multi-factor authentication. Here is how the system might work. As the driver approaches the locked vehicle, the driver’s mobile device might require authentication using facial recognition software, for example Face ID. If the vehicle is parked in an unknown parking garage or in an unfamiliar city, the vehicle may request an additional (secondary) authentication, for example a keypad entry or a verbal passphrase. Once the driver is in the vehicle, the vehicle may determine if the mobile device is within a particular geofence or location zone. The vehicle may then respond with saved settings, such as seating position, steering wheel heating/cooling, and localized climate controls.
Biometrics for Vehicle Authorization
Apple is far from the only company developing biometric security for vehicles. A number of traditional suppliers unveiled biometric connected car technologies at 2019 CES. In addition, the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe will feature biometric fingerprint sensors in its ignition and its door handle, and the 2019 Subaru Forrester already features facial recognition systems linked to internal vehicle settings. These efforts are likely the tip of the iceberg. Particularly as vehicles begin to store other sensitive data, for example payment credentials for fuel and other purchases, biometrics will be a critical aspect of any vehicle-based multi-factor authentication system. 
Legal Considerations
Any technologies involving the collection of biometric data are likely to implicate state and federal privacy laws. In addition, the underlying technology may very well possesses features that are themselves worthy of patent protection, not unlike Apple’s ideas for vehicle access. If these issues impact your business, or if you would like further information, please contact Vito Ciaravino or any of the intellectual property attorneys in our Automotive Practice Group. 

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