An advance peek at January Security Magazine coverage -- Big Brother seems to have been sized down, according to a consumer study by Unisys that U.S. consumers trust biometrics for data protection. With consumers jumping on the bandwagon, can employees and security leaders be far behind?

The survey finds a majority of Americans are comfortable using common biometric technologies for authentication. More than 70 percent of respondents will trust banks and government agencies to ask them for biometric data for identity verification. Additionally, fingerprints nearly tied personal passwords as the primary preferred authentication method, 73 percent to 72 percent, respectively.

The biometrics survey was conducted alongside the latest installment of the Unisys Security Index, which found that a majority of Americans continue to have strong concerns about identity theft and fraud with their credit and debit cards. Sixty-two percent of Americans said they were extremely or very concerned about the safety of their personal information, and 60 percent expressed serious concern about credit and debit card fraud.

“Despite ongoing fears about identity theft and fraud, and a willingness by consumers to adopt biometric technology, many organizations have yet to embrace this technology as an effective way to protect data and identities,” said Mark Cohn, vice president of enterprise security at Unisys. “Risk management only gets more challenging with the current financial crisis. Sophisticated cyber criminals know how to take advantage of increasing consumer anxiety as well as perhaps weaker internal controls at banks as a result of layoffs and reorganizations. Adoption of advanced biometric technologies as a critical security measure is a possible solution, but it also must be augmented with best practices and stringent policies and procedures.”

The Unisys Security Index is a biannual study that gauges consumers’ views about key security issues. Each survey also includes supplemental research on a security niche topic such as the current data on biometric authentication methods.

Additional key findings of the most recent research include:

Older and higher income groups significantly favor fingerprint scans, with 76 percent of people aged 35-49 and 50-64, and 79 percent of people earning $50,000 or more approving this verification method.

Additional consumer preferences for authentication include photographs (69 percent), personal identification numbers (PINs) (69 percent), eye scans (61 percent), voice recognition (55 percent), and face scans (52 percent).

Americans are significantly less supportive of hand / blood vessel scans, with only 43 percent favoring this authentication method.

Men and women are willing to use biometrics to verify their identity at similar rates. However, women are less supportive of advanced methods such as eye scans (57 percent) and hand scans (39 percent) when compared with men, 66 percent and 47 percent, respectively.

“Biometric authentication technology provides institutions with greater efficiencies and improved authentication accuracy. Businesses and agencies that use these methods also experience increased customer confidence regarding privacy issues,” Cohn said. “Because U.S. consumer acceptance of biometric data for security verification is increasing, mirroring trends we see around the world, we expect to see these technologies more broadly deployed in the future, from airport security checkpoints to online banks.”

In addition to the U.S. biometric results, the Unisys Security Index global results also were released today. This study provides a worldwide perspective on how people perceive critical security issues and their opinions on biometric authentication.

The current biometrics data supports results of similar research that Unisys conducted in 2006 which also found that a majority of consumers worldwide support biometrics for identity authentication.