Leaving a Mark on Security

Government mandates work to increase entry point protection, secure sensitive assets and reduce threats through new biometric technology

IN a time when identity management and interoperable security initiatives are at the forefront of agendas and presidential mandates, security directors are implementing new biometric technologies that notably increase entry point protection, secure sensitive assets and reduce outside threats. In 2004, HSPD-12 was published, which set forth sweeping goals for access control and identity management for government employees and contractors.

"Wide variations in the quality and security of forms of identification used to gain access to secure federal and other facilities where there is potential for terrorist attacks need to be eliminated. Therefore, it is the policy of the United States to enhance security, increase government efficiency, reduce identity fraud and protect personal privacy by establishing a mandatory, government-wide standard for secure and reliable forms of identification issued by the federal government to its employees and contractors, including contractor employees," according to HSPD-12.

In response to the goals of HSPD-12, NIST developed the Federal Information Processing Standard 201 (FIPS 201). The government project that this is commonly referred to is known as the Personal Identity Verification (PIV) of federal employees/contractors. FIPS 201 guidelines are not limited to government steps also are being taken by corporations, such as Boeing and Johnson & Johnson, seeking an interoperable and secure access control program.

The intent of FIPS 201 is to improve the identification and authentication for access control within organizations. There is significant detail associated with complying with FIPS 201, which has impact on processes, software and hardware. Over the past year, especially, many access control vendors commonly state in specifications that the product is FIPS 201 compliant. From the product perspective, this has impact on virtually every aspect of a system, including the host, how information is stored and transmitted, smart cards and readers, authentication and credentialing practices and biometric devices.

The majority of changes that will be introduced by FIPS 201 and the PIV card program deal with much of the infrastructure and processes that occur behind the scenes. The greatest impact on the end-user card holders will be the mandated introduction of biometrics to accompany an ID card for access control.

Why Biometrics?
Biometrics is an important part of FIPS 201, and changes security factor emphasis and identification processing. Traditionally, access control systems have relied on ID cards that can be stolen, lost, shared or copied. With a biometric image, such as a face or fingerprint image stored on the card, there is a secure and efficient way to ensure the person holding a card is the rightful owner.

Typically, there are three accepted ways to authenticate or prove identity to a system or an authorized person: Something you have -- such as an ID card; something you know -- such as a PIN; and something you are -- such as a biometric.

When two or more of these are used together for an identification decision, it is called multi-factor authentication. The PIV program is using, at a minimum, dual factor authentication, such as a card plus biometric, which offers a very secure solution that exceeds using cards alone.

The PIV program works in what is called verification mode (1:1) matching. The system verifies that the person belongs to the card by matching the biometric template stored on the card to the person standing in front of the access point and biometric device. There are some biometric technologies that can perform this matching process in less than one second for very fast throughput.

FIPS 201 does not mandate one biometric vendor over another, but there are certain standards of interoperability with which any service provider must comply to be considered. These standards address not only hardware, but also how biometric images are captured and stored so they can be used with multiple vendors' products. For example, a fingerprint captured on Vendor A's reader also must be able to work on Vendor B's reader. This enables interoperability and allows an employee to go from one agency office to another and use the same card for access control. This is a very basic view of interoperability, providing only one example of how the program alters vendor offerings. There are many other issues beside image capture and biometric storage which FIPS 201 addresses in order to ensure vendors are in compliance to achieve the program's interoperability goal.

With some options for vendors and even some flexibility as to the type of biometrics that may be used -- finger biometrics is mandated while facial recognition biometrics is an option it is valuable to offer a system that not only can add to security, but also is flexible and easy to use. Every situation requires unique consideration. For example, at main entry points where volume throughput capability is critical to maintaining a normal flow of people traffic without interruption, it is imperative to have devices that are both fast and non-intrusive. There have been many advances in biometric technologies over the past few years with notable improvements in important categories -- security levels/accuracy, speed and the user experience.

Biometric Advances
Since providers will want to create more benefit and greater value, they will want to consider where biometric advantages are and leverage them. Some of the most recent and significant advancements in biometrics surrounding facial recognition have emerged with 3-D facial technology. The new, 3-D technology employs completely unique methods applied to facial identification, very different than traditional forms of facial recognition. While introducing a third axis and depth to the process there is immediately more facial data considered. Accuracy improves exponentially with the ability to apply more mathematical probabilities to the data. Three-D recognition accommodates variable angles and covers more of the whole face. In practice, speed improves proportionately with the new accuracy because less processing time is required in the presence of precise information. Three-D facial recognition performance accuracy has been shown to match or exceed fingerprint recognition. Processing is faster and it requires less user cooperation.

Three-D facial recognition uses distinctive features of the face by capturing a real-time, 3-D image of a person's facial surface. The cranio-facial structure, where rigid tissue or bone is most apparent (eye socket curvature, nose and chin), represents the most unique areas of the face and those that are least likely to change over time. The following are some of the significant advantages that this technology enables.

  • Introduces depth and another axis of measurement whereby facial angles and curves can be measured on a sub-millimeter scale.

  • Not affected by lighting conditions and may even be used in darkness.

  • Robust to different view angles and has the potential to recognize a subject at near 30 degrees.

  • Ability to perform verification matching in milliseconds.

The points above are important to government building access and other high-throughput areas. For any biometric technology implemented, there are several aspects that are required of the solution for a successful deployment. These factors include a system that requires minimal cooperation from the subject, allows for flexibility in positioning and ambient conditions, has a high level of accuracy, and is ergonomically designed to keep people moving quickly through secured areas.

Securing Government Buildings
With the recent achievements in biometrics and existing mandates, government buildings are looking to enterprise-class, biometric-based physical access control systems. These biometric solutions-based networks can accommodate the need to incorporate fingerprint and facial recognition with existing physical access control systems.

Biometric verification ensures that a card holder is authorized for the security access level intended per individual, preventing card sharing or swapping, and thereby unauthorized accesses. With some facial recognition vendors, the solution can capture and store a unique audit trail of access transactions, which include a JPEG image of access attempts. The photo images offer evidence, in case of theft or unauthorized attempted entries, to provide authorities using watch lists or conducting investigations. Biometric solution scenarios can be replicated and customized for any government building.

Effectively securing government sites requires providers to consider all laws, mandates and programs in place, and be aware of frequent changes and revisions. Designing for systems and reader interoperability is key. Innovation in application will be required to create an advantage while serving variable scenarios and addressing specific agency or location needs.


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