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Biometrics: everywhere you are.

Convenient, secure data access is facing ever-escalating challenges. For over 90 million people, applications of fingerprint biometric technology are proving an effective measure for protecting valuable stored information, particularly in mobile and banking applications, to identify who may or may not access it. Added benefits for users of this now heavily-adopted technology are not having to remember their password or their key cards. Your fingerprint is everywhere you are. You can't leave home without it!

The most broadly applied approach is fingerprint recognition technology where software creates a fingerprint template, which is a highly compressed and digitally encoded mathematical representation of fingerprint features. This template is created when a user registers their finger and is stored as an encrypted file. When the user later touches the fingerprint reader to authenticate themself, a new template is created and compared to the 'registered' template. If there is a match, authentication is successful. Actual fingerprints are not stored.

Password Protection now PassA[c]

With password overload now endemic, biometrics becomes an obvious cost-effective, convenient and secure data access option. Whether securing a single PC, or accessing network-based log-on applications or protected web sites, fingerprint biometrics are doing the job. Large data systems can be further enhanced with biometric single sign-on allowing people to use a host of software applications without having to repeatedly authenticate themselves each time they need to access a password protected application.

Lower Cost and Small Size Driving Adoption

According to Walter Hamilton, chair of the International Biometrics Industry Association (IBIA), 'Biometrics offers not only a higher assurance of verification but a greater ease of use, in many applications, than issuing ID cards, complex passwords and PIN numbers to remember.' He also points out that wider use of biometrics has driven prices down which makes the technology even more ubiquitous in everyday applications.

In IT environments, desk space is always at a premium. Whether designed into a laptop or appended to a desktop PC, fingerprint biometric readers are most often chosen by system designers and system integrators. Recent reports show fingerprint readers are found embedded in notebook computers from nine of today's top ten suppliers including Dell, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Lenovo and Toshiba. USB-attached fingerprint readers take less desk space that a coffee cup while clearly delivering convenience and security in the IT domain.

Internet reports have described complex procedures for fooling fingerprint readers. But these are by no means quick or easy. They almost always involve lifting a latent print, enhancing it, scanning it, digitally processing the image, printing a film of the image, etching a printed circuit board with strong acids, then molding a 3-D model of the finger with gelatin or other substances. This is hardly practical for malicious hackers. In almost all reported cases, the person whose fingerprint was spoofed cooperated in the process. Nevertheless, as with any security technology, there's no 100 percent guarantee. An added security option is data access authentication requiring a finger from each hand. This means the user touches the fingerprint reader twice, significantly reducing any chance of a fake finger permitting access.

Applications Galore

In its 2007 report on biometrics, Acuity Market Intelligence of Louisville, CO stated that biometrics will become a preferred method of authentication with increasingly sophisticated capture technology.

Innovative fingerprint biometric applications are evolving at a fast pace, and becoming integrated into our daily lives as a matter of convenience for quick secure access to goods, services, and data. From commercial and public building access, to retail banking, payment at kiosks, and securing popular consumer notebooks, the simplicity and ease of adoption are compelling for businesses of all sizes. Fingerprint biometrics is quickly becoming a data security 'must have' across multiple vertical markets as the convenience, power and versatility of the technology take hold.

Vertical Market Examples:

Banking Security Boost in Oklahoma

The Bankers Bank of Oklahoma City wanted greater security for electronic monetary transactions from customer banks and to remain ahead of coming federal banking regulatory requirements. The rotating password scheme was inconvenient and cumbersome with the potential of people writing the password down. The bank eliminated password access entirely by deploying a fingerprint biometric security application in 140 of its banks reducing risk of unauthorized access to account information as well as reducing locked out users due to forgotten passwords.

Communications Service Provider Amps Security in Mexico

Telmex leads with integrated communications services throughout Mexico. To reinforce its existing authentication processes while maintaining the simplicity of employee log-in with a single sign-on, the security group replaced its token-based access with a fingerprint authentication system. This further boosted already strict security, added user access auditability while providing convenience, and reducing disruption of managing access through the token replacement scheme.

California County Gives the Finger to Passwords

The San Bernardino County Auditor/Controller-Recorder's office processes and safeguards public records with its IT services department by managing passwords for over 250 county employees. The IT department addressed user resistance to changing 15character long passwords. After implementing a fingerprint biometrics system proven in Dept of Defense applications, the county's IT help desk measured clear cost savings with a 90 percent drop in password calls.

Utah Credit Union Boosts Security and Productivity

Mountain America Credit Union, with over 720 employees and 44 branches throughout the Western US was concerned with employee password sharing. Employees used multiple passwords each time they needed to unlock their computers. With a small IT staff the company switched to fingerprint biometrics gaining productivity with fast one-touch access, cost savings with reduced help desk calls asking about forgotten passwords and increased security with easier management of user setting for its 150 Citrix servers.

Chip Mesec, senior manager for product marketing, Digital Persona in Redwood City, California.
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Author:Mesec, Chip
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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