Voice Biometrics: Underappreciated, Big Upside

By Doug Mohney February 04, 2014

Using voice as a biometric identifier has come a long way from pop culture references in "Sneakers" and television shows.  The technology is making big gains in the financial industry and government use, with hints it may appear on a major U.S. carrier in the future. 

When "Sneakers" hit the big screen in 1992, one plot point focused on the use of voice biometrics to gain access to a secure area.  The pass phrase included the words "My voice is my password," leading the hacker heroes of the film had to collect the individual words with a small cassette recorder (For those under 30, think MP3 player) and then splice them together into the right sequence for playback.

Today, voice biometrics is typically used as a part of a multi-factor (more than one piece) authentication solution.  In addition, voice biometrics algorithms have become much more sophisticated.

"We use a larger vocabulary and techniques to detect [pre-recorded] attacks," Julia Webb, Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing for VoiceVault said in remarks during a voice biometrics panel held at ITEXPO East 2014 last week.  

Webb said no security solution is 100 percent full-proof, with tradeoffs made between the amount of money a company wants to spend to thwart attacks and the most likely potential threats.

"Anyone can break a [security solution] if they're willing to spend the money," Webb stated.

Voice biometrics systems are currently deployed primarily in the financial sector, but are gaining traction in other areas as well.  The New Zealand government implemented voice biometrics in its call centers several years ago, shaving 28 seconds off the average length of calls along with making customers happy because they don't have to go through a lengthy manual identity question process. 

Turkcell's implementation of Nuance's voice biometrics solution has been featured in a case study.  Deployment of the Nuance solution started in 2011.  Customers use voice biometrics in lieu of a four digit passcode in order to manage their accounts and conduct transactions over the phone.  Authentication takes place in a few seconds, cutting at least 20 seconds from the call and keeping agent talk time out of the loop.

 With 7,500 call centers seats and 120 million customer contacts per year through the Turkcell IVR system along with 1.5 billion interactions across all customer service channels, cutting 20 seconds per call quickly adds up to big savings. At last estimate, around 10 million Turkcell customers had enrolled in the voice biometrics program.

The U.S. may be soon joining Turkcell in the use of voice biometrics.  Webb became very reserved when asked if she knew of cellular or phone companies looking at voice biometrics.  Reading between the lines, I would venture there are several carriers examining the technology and I'd put money on "Un-carrier" T-Mobile US to be the first to market with a voice biometrics solution.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Contributing Editor

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