Biometrics Expert Anne Wang Talks Digital Infrastructure, Emerging Tech

Emerging technologies such as deep learning and Big Data have improved the accuracy, speed and usability of biometrics identification and verification solutions, according to Wang.

SECURE Perspectives is a monthly column by the Security Industry Association (SIA) profiling women in the security industry. This column is part of SIA’s Women in Security Forum, an initiative to support the participation of women in the security field through programs, networking and professional growth events and thought leadership opportunities.

For this edition of SECURE Perspectives, SIA spoke with Anne Wang, identity & biometrics technical director at the Thales Group.

How did you get into the security industry?

I became involved with the security industry through applying biometrics technology in digital security. I started my career as a research scientist in a tech startup specializing in biometrics. Before the Internet and websites became an integrated part of our lives, the use of biometrics was mostly in law enforcement systems. In the past two decades, the widespread use of digital network and data management in business, industry, government and our daily lives, raises the huge demand of securing data and the network.

Identity verification is a critical part of security, and biometrics technology provides a powerful way to authenticate the identity of an individual. Therefore, my work has expanded to utilizing biometrics technology in identity management, multi-factor authentication, access control, surveillance and other applications in the security domain.

Anne Wang

Anne Wang

How does your organization serve the industry?

Gemalto, a Thales company, creates the secure software and technologies needed to bring trust to an increasingly connected world. Our solutions and services generate value for businesses and governments by protecting identities and data wherever they are.

What is your current role?

I work as technical director in Thales NORAM biometrics. Our team delivers biometrics solutions that incorporate the state of art identification technologies to our customers in border management, civil identification, commercial, law enforcement and other sectors. I have been in this role for about 10 months. After many years in research and development, this new role gives me more opportunities of direct customer interaction to make our technology best serve customer needs and translate those needs into technical specification for strategic planning.

What types of job functions do women fill in your company? Is there diversity of roles in your company, or do women gravitate toward certain job functions?

In our company I see women fill all types of job functions that I have worked on or interacted with. There is diversity of roles in the company. I have been on technical functions, and my observation is that women are still the minority of the technical workforce, though I see my fellow female colleagues show steady confidence in their jobs. For sure equity/parity is an essential point that Thales is taking very seriously, so we expect improvements for a better balance.

With more and more data that shows diversity makes a better workforce, what opportunities do you see for women in sales roles serving the security industry? What impediments do you see for achieving this? What could remedy some of these impediments?

Different jobs in the security industry require different expertise and experiences. I am more familiar with job positions relevant to technology and application development. The security industry is technology-based. The rapid advancement and growth of security technology brings a lot of opportunities in career development for both men and women. Getting appropriate training and keeping up to date with emerging technology is very helpful to having a successful career in this industry.

This would start with encouraging women to choose STEM majors in education or get other training in technical areas. There are more and more women attending colleges or graduate schools with majors in the technology field, but there is still room to improve. Taking two of the leading technology institutes in the United States as an example, 46% of the undergraduate students and 35% of the graduate students enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for fall semester of 2018 were women, and women made up 45% of the undergraduate and 29% of the graduate student body at the California Institute of Technology in the same time period, per the data published on school websites.

Another improvement that the employers could make to help women achieve in the industry is to provide help to address some particular needs of working mothers, such as tech refresh training after maternity leave to catch up with the rapidly-moving technology field.

What do you see as important trends in the security industry?

The digital infrastructure of nowadays offers three capabilities at the level we never had before: capability to search, capability to connect and capability of pooling data about people and things. While these capabilities bring tremendous convenience and benefits to both business and our daily lives, along with them comes the concern about the harm that could be done by the misuse of these capabilities, particularly with privacy and identity. We see public awareness on security challenges and the importance of digital security application is on the rise. Technologies that can help build solutions to protect privacy and identity are in high demand. Digital security is needed in many places that traditionally would not have concern in security.

More specifically, what trends are you seeing in your company’s area of security sales and sales performance?

Biometrics technology has made significant progress in the past two decades. For continuous growth, we look to use emerging technologies such as deep learning and big data to further improve the accuracy, speed and usability of biometrics identification and verification solutions, as evidenced by the success of applying deep learning in face recognition. The availability of new sensing technology enables the development of new biometrics data collection capabilities. This includes collecting new types of data beyond the traditional 2D images and devices that can more effectively collect biometrics data in different environments and populations.

In addition to contributing to performance improvement, the new type of data and the innovative analysis tools can help advance the attack-detection technology, particularly the liveness detection technology, which is a unique need in biometrics. Another area pending a breakthrough is technology that can address the privacy concern of using biometrics. Application-wise, the solutions are being expanded to the two ends of the spectrum. On one end is the large-scale system that incorporates the management of and identification of the database of hundreds of millions of people. On the other end is the cost-effective user-friendly products that can be used in our daily lives.

What are the top challenges your company and/or the security companies you serve have faced so far in 2019?

For the biometrics-related business of our company, we look to introduce new technology into biometrics solutions and in parallel try to demonstrate the full potential of the technology, highlighting positive benefits for companies and users.

What are the biggest opportunities your company and the industry are seeing?

For opportunities involving biometrics, the biggest opportunity is the widespread use of biometrics in digital security, for different types of applications and services of different level use cases, from very large-scale biometrics system for centralized applications, to gadget-types of products being used in daily life and everything in between. Biometrics is a good balance between the security level companies want to reach and the convenience expected by end users looking for a smooth and secure experience.

What do you hope the Women in Security Forum can achieve for the security industry?

I hope the Women in Security Forum can serve as a platform for women in the security industry to connect and support each other, to share experience and expertise and to help to find opportunities, leveraging proper networks.

What advice would you give women who are in the industry?

I would say that it is very important to keep learning. The digital security business is tech-driven. The new technologies are emerging at a fast pace, and so are the new challenges in security. We need to keep our knowledge-base and skill-set refreshed and expanded to keep up. Let’s remain open-minded and curious.

Who or what was the strongest influence in your career (e.g., a mentor, an event that inspired your career decision)?

I stepped into the biometrics and security industry without knowing much about it, more just for getting a job. What has kept me motivated to continue working on it over the years is to see the products I am involved in developing actually being used in the real world and having a positive impact. I still remember the excitement when I saw our products in action for the first time. Years ago, our authentication solution was used in a smartphone which was used by many people around the world. I saw people using it in stores, at conferences, boarding an airplane… a lot of places and scenarios. I feel that I did something good for our people and community, and I am proud of it.

How do you define success?

To me, career success means that the outcome of my work can bring benefits to the society — in our case, the technology and solutions we introduce help make this world safer — while we can balance work and life in the process.

What would you say to new upcoming women in the industry?

There are a lot of opportunities now and in coming years. From a technology perspective, we are in a field that is on an upward track, and there are many meaningful topics that we can work on and generate real impact. So it is a good time to join the game, also because it has become common sense to think gender diversity is bringing positive outcomes personally and professionally. The industry is ready — are you?

Learn more about Thales.

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