Biometrics as a solution for ATM fraud


As technology progresses, new inventions and innovations are brought to us every day. Some are researched and developed specially to address specific issues, while many are introduced for general use, and can be later modified and customized for special applications.

In this project, we are going to discuss the use of an important branch of Biometrics Science, which is the use of iris recognition technology for security and safety reasons, specifically, the security on ATM machines at banks.

We will address a problem, and then explain the proposed technology, how it works, how it could be applied and the consequences of its use at ATMs.


The organization that is to be put under focus in this project is National Bank of Abu Dhabi or as abbreviated and well-known NBAD, which is considered to be one of the top banks in UAE, because of the comprehensive services it offers to its clients locally and worldwide.

NBAD was incorporated as a small banking unit back in 1968 in UAE, and since then, it has grown rapidly and now it operates in 13 countries all around the World. Currently, NBAD has more than 100 branches and 330 ATMs across UAE, and more than 50 branches and 60 ATMs outside UAE. Through this big number of service channels, it provides its customer with a wide variety of financial services including domestic, international, corporate, investment and Islamic banking.

NBAD's mission is to provide their customers with the best services, and aim to be the number one Arab bank. Through their high commitment to their mission statement, NBAD has grown as one of the best financial institutions around the World, and was ranked within the World's 50 safest banks in 2009.

NBAD excels at providing services to its clients through segmenting its market into different partitions based on demographic, geographic or behavioral factors. It targets each segment with special and dedicated offers that satisfy their specific and very sophisticated needs. It deals with every customer personally and carefully, and applies the best customer relationship management practices. It also uses a wide range of the latest technological hardware and software solutions to ensure the maximum quality of its products and services.

All this has led NBAD to be an excellent bank that attracts clients of different levels and categories, including individual and business customers. Its clients include workers, ladies, students and elite customers in addition to big establishments and organizations inside and outside UAE.


The problem we recognized in NBAD couldn't be really considered a problem; rather, it is an everyday threat that is posed to every bank and financial institution, including NBAD. Therefore, anticipating the problem and avoiding its occurrence would boost a bank's rank among others in the market very fast.

As we noticed, NBAD is grabbing almost every opportunity to improve the way it conducts business, and tries to step ahead all of other banks throughout UAE, or as its mission implies, in the Arab World.

Through our research, an important incident came to our attention that happened about 2 years ago in UAE, which was the Identity theft and ATM fraud that occurred in September 2008. Many banks were involved, and serious steps were taken to eliminate the losses and overcome the problem.

Through our research, an important incident came to our attention that happened about 2 years ago in UAE, which was the Identity theft and ATM fraud that occurred in September 2008. Many banks were involved, and serious steps were taken to eliminate the losses and overcome the problem.

NBAD authorities ensured that their customers were protected by blocking certain suspicious transactions, calling and messaging ATM users to change their PIN codes and guaranteed that no customers will be out of pocket as a result of the incident.

Although NBAD applies different security plans to protect its clients from ATM frauds, we think that the technology we are about to discuss will add a lot to their security and reliability records, and set it apart from all other banks in this highly competitive industry.


  • Technology Definition
  • Biometrics generally is used as an authentication procedure that identifies unique physical characteristics of humans to recognize them. Those characteristics include: fingerprints, iris, voice, face and hand geometry.

    Iris recognition is the technology we are suggesting in this project, which is a method of biometric authentication that uses pattern-recognition techniques based on high-resolution images of the irises of an individual's eyes.

  • Technology Background
  • Iris recognition technology is relatively new, although its concept began to formulate back in 1985, When Dr. Leonard Flom and Dr. Aran Safir proposed that no two irises are similar. The first automated algorithm for identifying iris came to life in 1994 by the joint efforts of Drs. John Daugman, Flom and Safir.

    The first commercial products became available in 1995, and when the patent covering the concept of iris recognition expired in 2005, many companies developed their own algorithms for iris recognition which resulted in many different approaches to the same concept.

  • Technical Overview
  • The iris recognition procedure goes through many sequential steps which are: iris localization, iris imaging, pictorial representation and iris recognition.

    1. Iris localization: In this step, the iris is carefully located using landmark features, which allow later for imaging the iris and extracting distinct features. This step is important to reduce noise such as eyelashes, reflections, pupils and eyelids. As appears in the image below, the iris and eyelids are indicated with white outlines.
    2. Iris imaging: an image of the iris is taken with a sensitive high quality digital camera that uses infrared light that illuminates the iris without harming the eye.
    3. Pictorial representation: special 2D wavelets are used to filter the segments of the iris into vectors called (phasors), which include information about the orientation and position of different areas in the iris. Those phasors are used to create the IrisCode which constitutes of 256 bytes of data about the iris, plus some control bytes that are used to exclude unwanted data. Pictorial representation (the IrisCode ) is shown in the figure below.
    4. Iris recognition: two IrisCodes are compared to recognize the iris by measuring a special difference called the Hamming Distance (HD) which differentiates two irises. The rule followed is: if less than 1/3 of the bytes are different, then the two IrisCodes are from the same iris, in other words, the two irises in comparison are for the same person.
  • Managerial Overview

Iris recognition could be (and is) used in many organizations for security purposes. It is used as an access control procedure at some sensitive sectors of organizations, such as: safes, data centers, research centers, health care spaces, airports and political or military sections. It is also used by law enforcement offices to identify criminals or suspects.

As for the banking industry, Iris recognition could be used as a security and authentication method if applied on ATM machines. A special digital camera could be installed on every ATM machine, which takes an image of the iris of the ATM user, and compares it to the database of irises of bank clients -that should be collected previously-. If the irises match, the user can perform the required transaction without having to provide any PIN code or other ID information.

Applying this technology could highly decrease the amount of risks of ID theft or transactions fraud, and simplifies the procedure of identification for clients, which will just require looking at the installed camera.

There are many examples of business uses of iris recognition, but we would like to mention one that is applied in the banking industry. A good example is the experience of Bank United in Texas, USA that applied this technology on its ATMs back in 2002. Surveying their customers about their experiences with the technology, the opinions reflected positive acceptance, as 98% of the surveyed users stated that it is easy, fast, convenient, more secure and reliable, and as many stated: "is a good reason for moving their accounts to Bank United".

J. Drury, Jr., President and CEO of Sensar (a company that provides security solutions) said:

"Bank United's survey, and our experience with our other customers around the world, validates iris identification as the most accurate, customer- friendly and cost effective personal electronic identification technique ever developed. For the 21st century, the financial services industry now has a solution for the electronic identification of its customers across multiple delivery channels. Whether at the bank teller window, the ATM, or over the World Wide Web - the eyes have it."

Experts say that the use of iris recognition technology will become popular in the coming years and it will be applied in all types of businesses because of its relative low-cost, simplicity and accuracy.

Mr. John Grimes, Solutions Strategic Development Director said in a conference about iris recognition in Sydney, Australia:

"In over two billion attempts around the world, iris has never let the wrong person through a secure door or into the wrong bank account."

As a proof of the reliability of this technology, Detective Superintendent McGowan said in the conference:

"There are a number of people in Canberra at the moment who have legitimately lost every piece of personal identification but ... you generally don't lose your eyeballs."


As appears from the previous discussion, this method is very beneficial for both the bank and its clients because it will add a lot to its safety and credibility records, as clients will be more reassured about the safety of their bank accounts.

Applying this technology would require installing iris imaging cameras at the ATMs, building a database for the customers' irises by imaging and storing them for one time before using the technology and educating clients and employees on the use of this technology.

Installing the iris imaging cameras at ATMs and requiring the iris identification as the authentication method to perform an action, will result in eliminating or even preventing ID theft. The technology could be first tested on a group of voluntary bank customers to study their opinions and reactions, and monitor the effects of using the technology on the ground.

This will result in protecting bank customers from fraud such as the one explained earlier in the project, and save a lot of the reactions or losses that would result from such incidents.

Moreover, as this technology is not widely spread until now, being one of its first adopters will result in a high quality image of the bank which will set it apart from other banks (and this aim is at the core of NBAD's mission).


To conclude, iris recognition is a realistic and robust solution to the problem of ID theft at banks. It is user-friendly, easy to install, accurate, and innovative. People don't have to insert their PIN numbers every time they wish to make a transaction. Accordingly, they won't need to save their IDs on papers, mobiles or even credit cards, thus, posing them to the risk of being stolen or copied. Nobody can move around without their irises, which makes this technology the most secure as it uses IDs that don't change for life time.



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