The eyes have it: Biometrics are taking off in the Middle East

Phil Muncaster

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Middle East organisations are increasingly looking to biometric systems to improve security – whether that’s governments securing their borders and streets, or private enterprises looking to protect users against the growing menace of online crime. But what are the key pros and cons driving IT buying decisions?

Biometric technology has been around for several decades. However, it’s only in the past few years that a softening of user attitudes alongside improved accuracy and an increasing focus on the shortcomings of traditional user authentication has led to an increase in adoption.

Identifying who gains access

There are several key technologies we can look at in this area, and there’s one thing they all have in common: they use the measurements of an individual’s unique physical and behavioural characteristics in order to identify them – usually with a view to granting access rights.

Examples of biometric systems include: iris scanners; fingerprint scanners; voice recognition; keystroke identification; facial scanners; and even systems that can identify the unique pattern of veins in a user’s hand.

Some major roll-outs in the region include:

– Saudi Arabia’s Al Rajhi Bank uses finger vein biometrics at its ATMs.

– UAE’s Ministry of Interior recently announced the launch of integrated biometric screening systems – including eye scans, facial recognition and fingerprinting – at airports across the country.

– Egypt’s Cairo International Airport uses facial recognition to identify travellers.

– Finger vein scanners offered by Hitachi are being deployed in Turkey’s healthcare sector across several hospitals and dialysis centres to identify patients efficiently.

Middle East organisations are jumping aboard the biometrics bandwagon with the help of technology providers like Lenovo, which has been baking fingerprint scanners into its laptops and keyboards for some time now. But it’s still a relatively untapped market, according to Korean biometrics firm Suprema.

“The market has vigorous economic growth, high acceptance towards biometric solutions and a demand for high-end technology,” executive vice president Young S. Moon said at the most recent Intersec trade show.

Any organisation looking to evaluate the technology and determine its suitability should consider the pros and cons:


On the plus side the technology is now highly accurate. That is, it’s very difficult for an imposter to forge or steal another user’s biometrics. In comparison, passwords, for example, can be guessed, cracked, hacked or stolen and reused relatively easily.

Another benefit is that biometric systems are convenient because they do away with the user having to remember a difficult-to-guess credential or carry an ID card. Therefore the process of enrolment and use is usually very straightforward.


Biometric systems can be costly, although prices are dropping. In addition, some users might find the process invasive, particularly when it involves data that is considered highly personal, such as fingerprints and DNA.

Adoption of the technology is going from strength to strength in the Middle East. Technavio forecasts that the biometrics market is set to grow even faster than the global average, at a CAGR of nearly 20 per cent from 2014-19, as public and private organisations across the region wake up to the benefits.