Biometrics fact and fiction

Tom Cruise couldn’t escape biometrics in the futuristic blockbuster Minority Report, but here in 2002, the technology hasn’t proven itself quite yet.

An expert with EDS says vendors may claim biometric technology has matured,

but a number of problems still exist when it comes to finding a solution that is fool proof.

“”There are certain populations that don’t work well with certain biometrics. Certain systems can’t enroll a certain percentage of the population,”” said David Troy, senior project manager, access control solutions division with EDS in Washington, DC. “”When you use biometrics you have to take that into account.””

Troy was presenting Biometrics 101 at Comdex Canada in Toronto Thursday. He cautioned attendees not to blindly accept vendor claims finger scanning has proven to be difficult in populations with manual labourers as prints are frequently damaged, therefore making it difficult to enroll individuals into a system.

“”There is a high failure-to-acquire rate. Often you can’t even extract an image,”” Troy said. “”As well, Asian people have very fine fingerprints which are difficult to pick up, as are dark complexions.””

Other factors that influence acceptance or rejection in facial recognition include weight change, eyeglasses, and hairstyle change.

“”I think there’s a lot of promise here, but I think it’s been a little over-sold in the press and by vendors at this point,”” Troy said

The International Biometric Group estimates that revenues for biometrics will reach US$1.9 billion by 2005, up from US $523 million in 2001. Troy said those figures, compiled prior to Sept. 11, are expected to increase given the heightened interest in security systems.

Biometric technology is being used for both physical and logical access control. Logical access control enables a single sign-on ability to a PC, eliminating the need for passwords and PINs.

Troy said the various biometric options — fingerprint, iris, face and hand geography all feature pros and cons. Fingerprint offers either verification or identification but is not as unique as iris scanning. Fingerprint biometrics also carry a negative connotation as it is often thought of in connection with criminal activity.

However, fingerprint technology is relatively inexpensive and Jonas Jasinskas, a sales representative with EMJ Data Systems Ltd. In Guelph, Ont. said laptop makers such as Fujitsu have had success with fingerprint recognition as a means to provide secure access He says iris scanning is still considered pricey, but many companies have become interested in it based on the sex appeal of the technology above the security options it offers.

“”We’ve talked to some who like the ‘flash’ aspect of iris scan — especially with the unit LG has which features a big eye that focuses in on customers as they walk in a store,”” he said. “”Iris scanning looks very appealing, but in many cases is cost prohibitive. It can take a lot of convincing with some of the new biometric stuff.””

Iris scanning offers the highest accuracy identification method. It can capture 250 distinct measurements around the eye and a database search can occur quickly. These kinds of features don’t come cheap. A “”starter”” iris scan solution starts at about CDN$12,000 while a hand recognition reader that takes 96 measurements of the hand runs about US$1,700.

“”It is less mature, but one of the more promising ones,”” said Troy. “”There have been some false rejections that have been a concern in independent testing.””

For Concord Ont.-based Echelon Systems, an integrator of network deployment and security solutions, iris scanning has been the biometric of choice for companies with revenues of $100 million-plus including law firms and pharmaceutical companies.

“”Our business has grown steadily. There hasn’t been a huge increase in demand, but sectors like pharmaceuticals have always had security demands. In some pharma companies you need a password to get on one floor and another to leave,”” said Rocky Stefano, CEO of Echelon.

“”Many of them use it for building access and authentication on the network. It eliminates the need for passwords and by having one authentication method built for log in they can log into the rest of the system,”” said Stefano.

One of the most visible implementations of biometrics for access control is taking place at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport where hand recognition is being used when visitors arrive. Visitors can walk up to a kiosk, swipe a regular bank card that identifies them to the system. They are then asked to place their hand in a portion of the machine. If they are cleared, a receipt is printed. Currently 50,000 people use the identification machines on a monthly basis.

Troy said vendors will claim the margin of error is about .01 per cent on technology such as hand recognition, but it is typically somewhat higher due to swelling of the hands or other factors that may impact recognition of the hand.

“”The way I tend to think of it is as a relative order of magnitude ranging from voice recognition on the low end, then face, hand, finger and iris for levels of accuracy,”” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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