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Aditya Cakrawidya
Assistant Vice President IT
Yudha Satya Perdana
Service Quality & Development Head
Chai Domingo
Director, Contact Center
Rory Aditya
Manager Digital Service of Retail Customer Care

Article : Are you really who you say you are?

You know how it is. You ring the bank to check your balance, and because you've forgotten your password the call centre agent asks you to provide some sort of "secret" information to prove that you are in fact who you say you are.

For example, it might be your mother's maiden name, or the third digit of your security number. While these types of questions do provide a certain level of security, they're not watertight. For anyone determined enough, it's relatively easy to find out the information beforehand, or to make an educated guess as to what the answers might be.

So what's the solution? One evolving technology that is becoming increasingly popular in call centres – primarily because of the added security it gives - is speaker verification. This uses physical characteristics of the human voice to verify that individuals are indeed who they claim to be.

Tim Gardiner
Product Manager

It's worth pointing out here that speaker verification should not be confused with speech recognition, which recognises words uttered, rather than who said them.

Speaker verification uses previously enrolled 'voiceprints' to verify the identity of a caller. One of its critical advantages is that it adds a new level of security to systems that are controlled by pass-codes (passwords and PINs). In fact, it can even eliminate the need for pass-codes entirely.

Forgotten Your PIN?
The problem with traditional pass-code systems is that they have major flaws. Firstly, people continually forget their pass-codes. Secondly, they can be guessed, because too many people choose far too obvious PINs, such as their date of birth.

Inevitably, pass-codes can also be stolen – either by "shoulder surfers", who watch victims enter their PIN at the cash point - or by thieves who raid nearby rubbish bins for receipts with account numbers.

But it's not just cash that gets stolen. Stories abound too of criminals who use binoculars to spy on people keying in their calling card PINs on telephone keypads - and who then use the numbers to make large numbers of expensive calls.

Unquestionably, these flaws represent real problems to those companies trying to offer the secure transactions that are essential for electronic commerce or any application accessing sensitive user data.

As a result, many companies spend millions dealing with frustrated callers who have forgotten their PINs, or paying out for fraud resulting from stolen pass-codes.

Easier To Identify Callers
With speaker verification, however, the whole process of identifying callers is made much simpler.

Aculab's own speaker verification and identification software, for example, uses statistical data to confirm a caller's identity by their unique voiceprint, providing an extremely cost effective, convenient and secure way to access personal information over the phone.

For example, when a customer rings a call centre, the recognition system calculates the probability that the voice could originate from the 'claimed identity'. If the probability is high enough, the speaker passes the verification test.

And because Aculab's speaker verification software is built on existing speech recognition technology, the two can run simultaneously. Ultimately, this means that applications can verify the caller based on their voice and - for an even more secure verification - a piece of personal knowledge can be included in the recognition process, providing two security checks rolled into one.

Using Human Physical Characteristics For Identification
Already proving popular in the financial sector, speaker recognition is part of a larger category of human physical characteristics – or biometrics - that are used for identification and verification purposes. You'll come across face, iris, fingerprint, hand and signature recognition.

Because speaker recognition is ideally suited to 'over the phone' applications, it's particularly interesting for the telecommunications industry. While the most obvious application is telephone banking, others include voice-mail, mobile phone security and access to corporate intranets/extranets.

Requiring no specialised equipment (cameras, scanners, etc), speaker verification is a compelling choice even for non-telephony applications. And while it won't replace existing security devices, it can work in conjunction with them.

How It Works
Take the example of a customer who wants to find out what his bank balance is and transfer money between his accounts.

When he rings in, the system asks him to say his account number. It then retrieves the account information and a unique 'voiceprint' for that individual customer.

If a voiceprint doesn't already exist, the system then takes the customer through an enrolment process. This involves requesting other authentication data, i.e. a live agent, personal information or PIN, to confirm the caller's identity.

The system then asks the customer to repeat a short phrase several times. This speech data is saved as a voiceprint, encrypted and attached to the account details.

In subsequent calls, the customer will be asked to state his account number, which is used to retrieve the appropriate information. The system then compares the speech to the stored voiceprints.

If the comparison exceeds the security threshold set by the application, the caller is accepted. If the customer is rejected, the system may prompt him to say something else for a second authentication or alternatively may pass the call to a live agent.

And because the verification process takes as little as five seconds, it eliminates annoying 'hold queues'. It also enables live agents to concentrate on other revenue generating exercises, such as telemarketing.

Different Applications
While speaker verification technology is expected to be taken up widely in the financial sector, it can also be used for a host of other applications.

Speaker verification is also ideal for companies that need to give employees secure access to intranets, extranets and corporate applications. It also has huge potential in centralised government, where it can be used to give certain staff access to sensitive information, and for parole tracking.

Under some conditions of parole, an individual may be required to call into an operator to confirm their whereabouts. The offender would then be asked to speak a randomly selected series of digits, which is matched with the existing voiceprint. Using randomly selected digits would prevent the inmate from recording the password sequence and playing it back. This also removes the requirement for human interaction – i.e., a live agent confirming the parolee's identity.

Real Return On Investment
For call centres, speaker verification shows a very real return on investment. After all, authenticating callers is a huge expense for many companies. By reducing exposure to security breaches via impersonation and minimising the amount of time spent on calls, call centres can save substantial amounts of money.

In fact, research shows that a call centre handling one million calls a month could be incurring as much as £2 200 000 in user authentication costs annually. By reducing the amount of time agents spend actually taking callers through the identification process and confirming that they are who they say they are, call centres could make vast savings. Then agents can be used for other revenue generating exercises.

No wonder that speaker verification is set to revolutionise call centres. After all, it's relatively easy to steal a PIN. It's practically impossible to steal a voice.

About Aculab:
Through a customer-focused approach to development, Aculab has produced a computer telephony (CT) product portfolio that satisfies the speech resource and global digital connectivity requirements of developers and system integrators. CT applications utilising Aculab's components can handle real-time telephony, through an extensive range of resources and signalling systems.

Today's Tip of the Day - Call Your Competitors

Read today's tip or listen to it on podcast.

Published: Monday, May 26, 2003

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