NCR tests fingerprint technology for ATMs

TORONTO – Next time you walk up to an automatic teller machine, instead of having to remember a PIN, imagine if all it takes to access your account is the touch of a finger.

While this may not be coming to an ATM near you just yet, NCR Corp. has partnered with Colombia-based Bancafe Bank to incorporate fingerprint scanning across its entire ATM network. NCR was in Toronto Tuesday at the annual RBC Applied Innovation Symposium to show off the work it did with Bancafe and to get Canadian financial types thinking about biometric technology.

Mark Grossi, chief technology officer of architecture and technology, NCR’s Advanced Concepts Lab demonstrated how the company is using fingerprint-scanning technology to validate an individual’s identity. “We’re starting to see emerging markets for this technology in South America, India and China,” said Grossi. “They don’t have legacy systems.”

In Colombia, for example, a match between the bank card and the customer’s fingerprint is required to gain access to his or her account — helping to cut down on fraud practices such as card skimming and shoulder surfing and improve security. “The level of security goes from a four digit PIN number to something that’s 10 to the power of 12,” said Grossi, adding the additional security allows banks to offer more services at the ATM such as the ability to make mortgage payments or obtain a secure loan.

Peter Turpin, executive director at the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance, said that fingerprints and iris recognition techniques are far more secure than anything that currently exists such as PINs, which can be easily stolen by one person looking over another person’s shoulder. While some U.S. banks have been utilizing iris recognition for the past five years, Turpin said Canada has fallen behind its neighbour to the south and other countries around the globe.

“We’ll be last,” he said. “We could have led, but we’ll be last.”

That’s why NCR is attending this year’s conference to help promote the application of this technology in the financial services sector. Grossi said NCR is currently not in talks with any of the major banks but hopes this event will pique the interest of banking execs.

NCR decided to go with fingerprint recognition technology over optical or other methods such as speech authentication, iris recognition and hand and vein recognition because it is best suited to the 24-hour nature of the ATM environment. To obtain a fingerprint, the image of the fingerprint is captured via a desktop optical scanner and then digitized for storage. The scanning software will take a couple of pictures showing blue dots representing unique identifiers such as bends or swirls that will then be used to generate a template. That data is then written onto a smart card via a reader instead of being dumped into a centralized database.

Despite the availability of biometric technology, there’s still a stigma around it thanks to the association between fingerprinting and criminal activity. But that is slowly changing due the public’s heightened security fears around terrorism and numerous cases of identity theft in the last few years.

“The next challenge is getting consumer acceptance,” said Grossi. “There’s more emphasis on privacy in Canada and the U.S. People are more willing to give up their privacy for security in the last five years.”

But implementing biometric technologies doesn’t necessarily mean giving up a person’s right to privacy, said CATA’s Turpin. “It’s always a balance,” said Turpin. “There’s another argument that says biometrics protects privacy more.”

Turpin said negative connotations of biometrics still exists in the mindset of many Canadians. “I don’t think people are over it yet but eventually it will happen because it has lots of practical applications as well. It will become mainstream eventually.”


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