Ensuring identity online: Selfies, speechprint and cybersecurity

30 January 2019

The internet gives every user the possibility of anonymity. While the merits of this aspect of online life are debatable, what’s for sure is that organizations who need to verify an online individual’s identity have a few extra hurdles to jump.

For internet users, there are several levels at which you might have to prove your identity. Opening a bank account, or signing up to use a cryptocurrency exchange involves a significant commitment, with legislatively-approved forms of ID needed for verification. Further down the scale, there’s proving your address, employment status or business registration details. And finally, there’s assuring a company or organization that you’re a full-time student, a nurse, first-responder, teacher or a member of the armed forces – usually to qualify for an offer or discount.

With the days of having to be physically present to prove identity or status becoming rarer, organizations from government departments to small, online retailers all need a method of ensuring that people are who (or what) they claim to be.

Thankfully there are now emerging a number of service providers that can help organizations do just that, via the technology that the majority have access to: phone, tablet or computer. Would-be service users, customers or suppliers can present identity documents to their phone’s camera, or laptop’s webcam. Some ID verification providers take voice-prints too, or video of a user’s face, and there are often options for more stringent checks, like speaking via video link to a human operative.

The internet and the nature of global commerce bring their own particular complications, of course. How can a British company ensure that a Korean customer for one of its online stores (hosted in the US) is who he says he is? Identity verification companies have established networks (or have access to existing networks) of databases that span the world, capable of cross-checking documents from many different locales.

And not every purchaser of online verification services needs to see a prospect’s passport or driver’s license. Accordingly, there is often a scale of identity proofs that can be sought, with some of those being supplemented by, for instance, social media histories or IP point-of-presence checks.

But whatever level of identity proof required, what’s almost always needed by end-users (be they consumers or business partners-to-be) is the type of speed and convenience epitomized by smartphone-based services in everyday use by just about everyone. Today we expect access to media and services of all kinds within seconds, not days. Reducing sign-up times for even sensitive financial services is seen as an absolute must – the ‘right now’ mentality prevails, and online identity verification suppliers are working hard to balance speed of sign-up with levels of security and identity assuredness.

There aren’t many forms of identity that can’t be forged; even fingerprint and voice-print recognition technologies are fallible. Moreover, within a few days of Apple’s much-trumpeted facial recognition system on its iPhone X, several groups had managed to fool the algorithms into unlocking a phone using a face modeled from plastic. ‘Traditional’ proofs of identity are now replete with holograms and smart chips, and the financial industry especially continues to develop more secure payment systems using eInk, RFID and biometrics.

As technology becomes more sophisticated, so do the forgers and identity thieves. Falsely proving status or identity will always be theoretically possible, so it’s up to this new generation of online ID checking companies to leverage the latest and best technology to keep companies and organizations operating online safely.

At TechHQ, we’re looking at three suppliers of this new generation of ID verification, each of whom has unique offerings that we hope will be a good fit for your business or organization.


SheerID’s Digital Verification Platform instantly verifies the eligibility of individuals and businesses, enabling brands to deliver gated, exclusive offers and personalized experiences to high-value customer segments like the military, students and first responders.

Powered by the industry’s largest verified identity network, SheerID uses hundreds of authoritative data sources to verify credentials in real-time within an organization’s shopping experience. This ensures a seamless process for customers that mitigates fraud, reduces churn and fuels loyalty to drive revenue growth.

SheerID’s verified identity network now includes over 1.2 billion consumer attributes for verification across ten customer segments: military, first responders, teachers, college-bound students, college students, college graduates, seniors (over 50s), private-sector employees, federal employees, and businesses.

Hundreds of the world’s biggest brands – including Spotify, Foot Locker, and Amazon – rely on SheerID as their trusted verification partner to acquire customers and build loyal relationships. By using digital verification to protect their gated offers, brands experience on average a 3x boost in their conversion rate, driving a 20:1 return on ad spend. Founded in 2011, SheerID is backed by Voyager Capital and Centana Growth Partners.

Read more about SheerID here.


The reduction of false-positives, ‘maybe’s’ or ‘not sure’s’ is what this US company is all about. The company claims that when end-users interact with online verification systems, around 30 percent of the time an ambiguous result is returned, for one reason or another. Its website offers a calculator to help work out the cost to the business of these anomalies – which are typically rectified by (expensive) human intervention.

In fact, the company has put up a $10k reward for any company that can beat its verification accuracy levels.

With offices across the globe the platform on offer is suited to international use, plus it also positively helps lower what might be called ID cart abandonment: that is, would-be customers or service users giving up the ID verification process because of the difficulty of use, or repeated negative results. Jumio’s accuracy is bolstered by little touches like informing prospects exactly why their application has been denied which, Jumio claims, encourages people to try again.

Plus there are a few aspects of the Jumio solution that will appeal to providers of sensitive services such as banks, finance houses and currency exchanges: massive databases of ID information is continuously processed by Jumio’s machine learning routines, which constantly check for false positives and cross-correlate facial recognition results. That means that over time, results improve and businesses & organizations can trust in their customers’ identities.


European Gemalto focuses on two technologies, digital identification and data protection to help counter the two root causes of cyber-attacks: identity theft, and unencrypted data. With its platforms in use by over 30,000 organizations across the globe, the company operates from over 30 offices in Europe, the US and APAC.

Its R&D centers design and deliver the actual physical and digital identity formats themselves, plus the company’s software provides authentication schemes, including biometrics. Governments are currently using Gemalto biometrics tech for border control, for instance.

The company is heavily involved in IoT device security, data encryption, and cloud protection – this is ID verification for devices as well as people. With autonomous transport getting connected and emerging from the research stage, ensuring trust in the data received and transmitted by vehicles becomes (literally) a matter of life & death. So-called V2X communication is prone to hijack or disruption, so ensuring verified sources and conduits for information relay (via fast 5G, for example) will be of paramount interest to all. V2X refers to the passing of information from a vehicle to and from any entity that may affect the vehicle, be that infrastructure or other vehicles.

Device and people verification may soon be inseparable, so Gemalto might be your go-to provider.

*Some of the companies featured on this article are commercial partners of TechHQ