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Mountain America uses biometric system to secure its mobile app

Angela Nelson accessing her banking information through an eye scan. Photo by Benton Alexander Smith

Angela Nelson accesses her banking information through an eye scan. Photo by Benton Alexander Smith

Folks driving past the Garden City branch of Mountain America Credit Union may be caught off guard by the new advertising. Squeezed between the ads for various credit services is a description for one of the company’s newest services – eye scans.

Mountain America partnered with Eye Verify, a Kansas City-based company, in May. Eye Verify created a biometric security lock and released it at the beginning of last year.

Biometrics are security features that rely on a user’s  physical features, such as fingerprints, voice or face.

“The original thought was it could apply to any situation in which you need a secure market,” said Tinna Hung, marketing director at Eye Verify. “We were seeing a growing trend of selfies in 2012 and believed we could use the cameras found on smart phones.”

Some phones have fingerprint-scanning capabilities, but it is expensive to implement fingerprint-scanning onto a device not built for it. Eye Verify Chief Scientist Reza Derakhshani, a professor at the University of Missouri, wanted to find an alternative to fingerprint-scanning and noticed that the human eye contains physical characteristics that make each one unique.

“This has software that allows your phone to authenticate the micro features of your eye,” said Angela Nelson, public relations specialist with Mountain America. “The eye vein patterns in everyone’s eyes are as unique as fingerprints.”

Derakhshani joined Toby Rush, Eye Verify’s founder and CEO, to find if his research could be applied to cameras to help secure mobile devices.

Eye Verify has more than 15 clients in industries including healthcare, government and device manufacturers, but financial institutions are its largest sector. Seven credit unions and two banks use Eye Verify including Mountain America, which paired the technology with its mobile banking app.  Based in Utah, Mountain America has 86 branches across five states including 15 in Idaho and six in the Treasure Valley.

“It’s nice because not everybody uses a PIN to secure their phone, but this way, if someone were to lose their phone they know the

Screenshot of Eye Verify

Screenshot of Eye Verify.

eye scan could keep their financial information secure,” Nelson said.

The mobile banking app gives users the option to secure their accounts with the eye scan instead of the traditional password.

Eye Verify can run on any device with a front-facing camera and users only have to line their eyes with the camera for about a second.

“It is super easy,” Nelson said. “Not that I would ever endorse it, but you could totally use it while driving.”

Eye Verify was tested by iBeta Quality Assurance, a Drug Enforcement Administration-approved biometric system tester, in fields concerning false match rates, electronic record storage and overall performance. 

Eye Verify claims it can work through glasses, at night, through glare and that the system cannot be tricked by video or a photograph.

“You can use this and your make-up or the lighting won’t make it difficult,” Nelson said.

More than 15,000 Mountain America clients have attached Eye Verify to their accounts, Mountain America said.

Mobile Banking Milestones

1960: ATMs come into use

1983: Motorola releases the first commercially available cell phone

1992: First text is sent via SMS

1995: Iris identification program prototype becomes commercially available

1997: Nokia introduces the first mobile phone with a keyboard

1998: First use of iris recognition in ATMs and PayPal launches

2000: Mobile banking becomes available

2003: Check 21 Act makes remote deposit legal in the U.S.

2010: Mobile check deposit becomes available

2011: Square mobile payments are introduced

2012: Universal card / Digital wallet technology becomes available and

2013:  FFIEC begins creating mobile banking guidelines for financial institutions and Apple begins selling phones with a touch ID fingerprint reading sensor

Sources: National Science and Technology Council, Credit Union Business, The Financial Brand, and the SANS Institute.

About Benton Alexander Smith

Benton Alexander Smith is a reporter for the Idaho Business Review, covering the Idaho Legislature, new business, technology and financial services.