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Biometrics: security at the touch of a finger.

Biometrics: Security at the Touch of a Finger

YEARS AGO, ACCESS CONTROL consisted solely at controlling access to a physical space. The solutions were simple--a door, a fence, and a lock; perhaps a guard station or an employee time clock.

The bad news is that thieves and thrill-seekers are increasingly sophisticated at wreaking havoc. The good news is that high-tech, biometric security solutions are easier to employ, more affordable, and more accurate in tracking culprits.

Two major requirements are necessary for effective security. The first is an identification system so fool-proof that its very existence makes criminals think twice. The second is a way to track access--who entered a building or logged onto a data base and when.

It is not feasible for a security officer to stand at each door, gate, or computer terminal, noting those entering and the transactions they conduct. Computerized audit trails--systems that record and report attempted access--can perform this function. However, they alone cannot determine with certainty that the persons gaining entry are really who they say they are.

Employee identification cards, passwords, numerical combinations, and keys can all be faked, stolen, or duplicated. These problems are eliminated by biometrics, which measures unique physical characteristics such as one's fingerprints, retina, voice, or signature. When coupled with comprehensive computerized audit trails, biometrics can provide highly effective solutions to physical and data security problems.

One company that stores computer media for major US corporations uses fingerprint biometrics and other new technologies as part of a total security system. The company maintains who off-site vaults, one for storing magnetic media such as computer tapes, disk packs, and floppy disks and another for storing microfilm and microfiche.

The company's three-story building incorporates precision environmental controls to protect computer media, which are sensitive to dust, heat, and humidity. The controls for internal and external physical access are even more stringent. Three-zone closed-circuit television (CCTV) and sensory monitoring of access points is conducted not only by the company but by a security company on a 24-hour basis. Fire and panic alarms and other equipment are monitored constantly to ensu they are working.

As armored, climate-controlled vans arrive at the company's loading dock, they are observed and recorded by a CCTV system, which monitors all access to the building. Electronically operated doors open and close behind the van.

To enter the log-in area, the driver must first clear a fingerprint scanner. The system holds digitized data of each employee's finger in its computer, which is safe in its own restricted-access area. Three fingerprints scanners are used in a network to monitor access to the log-in and central security areas, the vault, and the computer room.

When a worker seeks admittance, he or she puts a finger in a slot at the front of the fingerprint scanner. Each device is mounted on the wall next to the secured door in a climate-controlled box. In less than three seconds the system scans the person's finger, extracts minutiae points (where fingerprint ridges end or fork), and compares them with the minutiae points recorded in its data base. If there is a match, the door unlocks.

CCTV is constantly monitoring the access points to ensure only one person gains admittance at a time. In addition, hidden panic buttons are within reach should a worker be coerced by an intruder.

The system is also programmed for varying levels of security clearance so that employees are denied access to certain areas at certain times of the day. For example, employees cannot gain access on weekends unless that is their regular shift. Each access or attempt is recorded by the system's host computer and printed out for continuous monitoring.

There is yet another important safeguard. Those authorized to enroll employees into the data base must also be verified by the system before making changes or attempting an enrollment. The audit trail makes a record of this type of transaction as well.

A recent report by the US Office of Technology Assessment noted that biometrics is one of the leading new technologies spearheading the trend toward better security. In addition, the report predicts that by the 1990s such technologies will be considered essential in routine business applications.

One of the reasons biometrics is gaining popularity is that misconceptions about it are being dispelled by increased awareness. Security experts are beginning to examine biometric technology more closely and inform management of the options.

Managers frequently believe the cost of security is prohibitive because they are unable to perceive and quantify potential losses. But many companies have discovered after the fact that an expenditure of several thousand dollars would have been affordable compared to the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars or of irretrieve data.

Far from a sci-fi dream, biometric security is a here and now solution to illegal access. No longer are banks, government computer operations, and the military the only users of this technology. When potential imposters must verify their identity with a fingerprint or other physical trait before gaining access, they are less likely to strike. Instant accountability makes culprits think twice before acting. More and more, the question "Who goes there?" is being answered by an electronic guard whose very existence is a deterrent to crime.

Roger D. Morrison is regional sales manager for Fingermatrix Inc. in Fairfax, VA.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:security system innovations
Author:Morrison, Roger D.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Words:883
Previous Article:The body biometric.
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