Cyber-security is very much in the news. Every day brings new, distressing stories of data hacks, identity theft and email scams. Frankly, it is impossible to set up or access any sort of account nowadays without supplying a password or PIN but even chip-enabled EMV cards face security vulnerabilities!

Unfortunately, hackers have found various ways to steal or defeat passwords, putting identities and wealth at risk. Biometric security measures are more effective, but it seems that Americans are not ready for them. Yet.

A recent survey of more than 1,000 Americans were asked about which method they would prefer to secure online access. The biometric methods, such as fingerprints, eye scans and facial recognition, didn't fare as well as password use. The results were:

  • Password: 58 percent
  • Fingerprint sensor: 10 percent
  • Not applicable, don't go online: 10 percent
  • Multi-digit PIN: 9 percent
  • Don't know: 6 percent
  • Voice recognition: 2 percent
  • Facial recognition: 2 percent
  • Eye scan: 2 percent
  • Other: 1 percent

Thus, 68 percent of respondents preferred a password or PIN, which is worrisome considering the lax way these are often used. For example, many folks use "password" as their password or "1234" as their PIN. That's just an open invitation to hackers.

Another common problem is that many people use the same password for all of their accounts, and don't periodically replace them with new ones. Often, folks who do use unique passwords store them in online vaults so that they don't have to be remembered. But even if you put an easily recalled (and hackable) password on the vault, you're still vulnerable.

Respondents gave a number of reasons for their opinions about biometric security measures:

  • Malfunction: 42 percent said they were afraid they'd be cut off from their accounts due to a mechanical malfunction
  • Big brother: 42 percent felt uncomfortable about companies collecting personal biometric data during login
  • Loss: 33 percent worry about losing their device (smartphone, tablet), thereby giving third parties a chance to steal biometric data
  • Little faith: 32 percent are concerned about hackers defeating biometric security measures
  • Too soon: 30 percent feel that biometric technology isn't sufficiently developed to be fully secure
  • Risky: 26 percent judge facial recognition, fingerprints and voice recognition to be just way too risky
  • Combine: 22 percent are OK with biometrics only if it's used in combination with a password or PIN
  • Better: 16 percent think biometrics authentication methods are better than passwords and PINs
  • Risk-free: 9 percent feel that biometric methods are not risky

With less than 10 percent judging biometric security to be risk-free, there seems to be a lot of wariness about this new frontier.

Several smartphones provide fingerprint scanning (usually thumb or index finger) as an alternative to password entry, but only 10 percent of users employ this method. Biometric recognition of face, voice and eye is still very unusual. It seems that adoption of biometric security methods will have to wait until people become less suspicious of the technology.