Biometrics that turn cons into pros

Anytime a new product is coined as ‘high-tech’, it also bears the weight of being ‘high-maintenance’.

The promise of providing advanced technology comes with the disadvantage of measuring its effectiveness against the technology of old. The newest products on the market receiving this scrutiny are biometrics – for their tremendous leaps and bounds in security technology. It should be expected that biometrics have their share of uncertainties that must be addressed. Any new technology would. So here is an honest attempt at turning the cons into pros.

Extensive research was done to understand the industry. This included the top reasons why consumers are hesitant about using biometrics. TMC Research released a report entitled, The Biometric Industry: A Comprehensive Report on Technologies, Vendors, Products And Applications (2000-2010). What they found was not by all means shocking, but it did put biometric trends into perspective.

It has been projected in several ways that biometrics are expected to become a mainstream in three to five years. The only way that will happen is if all your questions are answered and doubt is cast aside. No new technology is without obstacles. The vast majority of consumers dissect the purpose of a new product, and that's good. It makes vendors work harder. It's important to make products converge into today's markets and at the same time relentlessly attack current practices and standards to push for something better.

Concern 1: Technology dependence will result in a loss of control.

These days, technology is what drives us. It stores our data, sends us our calls when we are not near a landline, and gets our coffee. Think of it this way: by using biometrics, you gain control. For instance, when you install a fingerprint door lock on your front door, you are controlling who gets into your home. If your keys are lost, or you leave a spare key hidden near the door, you have less control over who may enter your home. Control is knowing who has made attempts at breaking in, and who has authority to enter in the first place.

Concern 2: I am worried about privacy and confidentiality.

Aren't we all? That is a key factor in implementing biometrics in the first place. Sure, now information about your fingerprint or signature (for example) is stored in a database, but now your password isn't. In cases where an administrator must have access to a database, a concern arises that identification may be used inappropriately and maliciously. The truth is, there isn't much that someone can do with your fingerprint or signature. If someone were to use your particular fingerprint pattern to access your files, they won't get very far. With only a copy of the print, verification will not work.

Corporation, manufacturer of fingerprint and signature biometrics, has made it their practice to design the most desired products that are built on the technology that addresses these concerns. Their fingerprint sensors are found in such products as 's BioMouse (optical PC mouse), BioScan (PCMCIA card for the laptop) and BioLock (fingerprint door lock). The sensors read past the first skin layer to read the live skin cells. This means that even though the correct minutiae (the distinctive points on a fingerprint) are there, it will detect that they are not being read off of the 'live' finger, so to speak.

Additionally, what is stored in the database isn't actually the image of the fingerprint anyways. The process of storage involves the collection of minutiae from the finger, which is then turned into a template through an algorithm. The same difficulty lies in trying to replicate a signature. They would still need to mimic your distinct handwriting characteristics, like pressure and speed.

As companies watch the industry mature, the one thing they are noticing is that privacy is really not much of a concern now. Privacy worries are more a symptom of new technology adoption. Perception of a new product must go through several stages, depending on experience and familiarity. We can all probably still remember how scary it was when computers were beginning to inch their way into people's lives. But the perceptions from those times have not survived the present because of our comfort level with computers. Biometrics is on the verge of experiencing that same type of comfort level.

Besides, privacy should not have to be compromised to use biometrics. Any type of biometrics device uses your unique characteristics, and those aren't secret – it's what makes you who you are!

Concern 3: We may need to re-engineer the existing system to fit.

Sure. Not everyone's system is the same, and many products require being bought 'as is'. That means it is built to suit your needs right off the shelf. But of course, people's needs are different. And sometimes that means calling in a special request.

Take a look at this example.

McDonald's offers their cheeseburger to everyone with the exact same ingredients. This allows them to make several in advance. But now and then someone comes along who needs a grill order. Just for them, they'll take off the pickles.

Corporation works like McDonald's. A funny comparison of course, but it's an appealing process that answers the calls of an on-demand market. For that reason, is able to eliminate integration concerns. Their software can be manipulated to accommodate almost any operating system with an ability to customize it to meet any requirements. The advantage of selecting a vendor that manufactures the complete biometric solution is that they have the power to put you in control.

Also, the biometric hardware and software must be able to work together to deliver the best results. On top of that, they have to be integrated into existing hardware and software. Vendors recognize that extensive efforts and costs have been invested into building your system over many years. Expecting you to change the way you do things to accommodate security enhancements would be asking too much.

Products such as BioMouse, BioScan and BioLock require little to no modification to any system. You can go on doing business as usual without starting from ground zero. In most cases, you won't need anything 'fancy'. Especially when purchasing for home use.

Concern 4: If biometrics fade in time, then we're left in the dark!

Just reassuring you that biometrics are here to stay won't do. So, here are the hard facts.

Biometrics has actually been around since the 1980's, as government was using it to manage welfare and social programs. The technology is only new in a sense that it is being used in the private sector now more than ever. The biometric industry, once worth $601 million in 2002, is expected to grow into a $4 billion industry by 2007.

Fingerprint based technology accounts for the largest segment of biometrics because of the wide range of applications where fingerprint solutions are the best tool.

Countless vertical markets are already using biometrics. These include: aviation, military, medical, banks/saving institutions, insurance, automotive, government, legal, academic, financial (non-banking), energy, oil, gas, mining, retail/wholesale, hotel, institutional, transportation, architectural, engineering, contracting, industrial manufacturing, service companies, and data centers.


Not to mention, the support that biometrics is getting from friends in high places, such as MasterCard. They have estimated that by adding smart card-based biometric authentication to a point-of-sale credit card payment will decrease fraud by 80 percent.

Concern 5: Can the architecture be scaled or modified?

This is very similar to Concern 3. There it was established that you wouldn't need to rebuild your existing system. But somewhere, modifications may be necessary. So where are they going to be? The easiest place, and most obvious, would be with the new product.

You may find that this won't be needed in such products as a mouse or PCMCIA card. Those use universal standards to work with almost any computer. Door locks, however, are always subject to design and styling of the building or home. Biometric manufacturers understand this. The hardware itself can be scaled to suit requirements in most cases. The critical component to a device such as a biometric door lock is the fingerprint sensor and its functionality. As long as the biometric aspect of the device is 100 percent operational, then it shouldn't be difficult to design housing to accommodate the environment.

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind: everything's a possibility. It's just a matter of whom you look to get the job done.

An experienced consumer has to remember that new technology exists to modernize work processes and eliminate problems that past technology have yet to solve. As biometrics become a solid mainstream, people will recognize these concerns for what they are: fear of the unknown. The industry's persistence to become a leader in security will always require companies such as to push to make the unknown known. And for that, it is only a matter of time.

Brooke Browne is responsible for media relations at Corporation.


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