Watch Out, It's Alive!

FROM the looks of it all, biometric technology as a form of identification is gaining headway in the race towards federal acceptance. Recently, President Bush addressed the nation on immigration reform. One of the key elements of his speech focused on tracking immigrant workers. Simply put, if people want to migrate to America for the opportunity to make more money, it can be done, but not without certain restrictions.

Termed the Temporary Worker Program, immigrants can work in the United States for a period of time, but must first go through a lengthy background screening process and receive accreditation to work in the United States legally. Once accepted, that person is issued a tamper-proof, biometrically-based identity card. Emulating TWIC and Registered Traveler, this program is scheduled to follow FIPS 201 standards.

What This Means for the Security Professional
An important standard for certain companies looking to sell to the government, FIPS 201 has had its ups and downs, but now looks to be consistent and set on its list of specifications.

"It is very hard for the manufacturer to build products when the requirements are not set. And I realize that there has been extreme frustration in the vendor community with FIPS 201 because there have been so many unanswered questions to some of the standards," said Walter Hamilton, chairman of the board for the International Biometric Industry Association and vice president of Saflink Corp.

And after waiting a year on clarification on biometric standards, the biometric technology providers finally received the specifications they had wondered about.

"Those standards are now very well understood and published. There is a simple path for companies to follow to adapt a product they already have or to develop a new product that meets those requirements, and then have them submitted for testing, so that they can then become listed as qualified products by the government," Hamilton said.

Biometric technology has grown in popularity recently. And Hamilton sees it as becoming a component of future reader technology. Access control manufacturers are looking to incorporate it into their products now and in the future.

"I think that after HSPD 12 was announced and people understood that TWIC was coming, we started to see companies move into the biometric field," Hamilton said. "We're all looking to respond to the biometric market. And we see a market not just here in the United States, but in other countries, as well."

Where There's a Will, There's a Way
The government is aiming towards a new, tamper-proof identity credential. This opens the door for many companies -- not just biometric technology providers -- to increase their business in the government sector. There are a number of initiatives being driven by the government that are looking for strong authentication, empowering the call for businesses associated with developing smart cards, biometrics technology and public key infrastructure.

"The government is looking to validate that the person presenting the card is actually the person to which it is issued. Second, they want the card to have the security features and intelligence to be able to securely communicate with the reader. Lastly, they want the ability to actually be able to go back to the trusted agent who issued the card and check to see that the card hasn't been revoked," Hamilton said.

Knowing what government officials are actually looking for helps manufacturers streamline their marketing efforts. A reinforced concern with border security highlights vulnerable spots in border access.

Those in the security industry can take this into consideration and provide the resources needed to increase preparedness and security.

"My recommendation would be to get very well acquainted with FIPS 201 and the related publications associated with it, design against those standards and develop your product to be as flexible enough to be slightly adapted as needed for these specific mission requirements," Hamilton said.

The Future of Biometrics
Enhancements to the technology are evolving. As technology matures, so does its capabilities.

The biometrics industry is full of companies that are seasoned in the technology and more and more companies are looking to incorporate that same technology into their own products. Biometrics is becoming more widely used and is now required in many applications.

As Hamilton points out, the technology is becoming faster, better, cheaper.

"The algorithms themselves are becoming more sophisticated. They're able to do a better job between differentiating, meaning that there are less false positives and vice versa," he said.

Moreover, companies are looking into "novel" biometrics. There's now a great interest in vascular recognition, or vein patterns, and a study into using DNA as a more instant form of identity verification. Vein pattern verification becomes a more confidential identifier because a person's blood vessels never change.

"Vascular recognition is very popular in Japan because in that society, they have a cultural aversion to being fingerprinted. In other countries, such as the United States, being fingerprinted is less of a concern," Hamilton said.

DNA, on the other hand, requires more of a lengthy process of identification than other forms of biometrics, providing a longer turnaround than fingerprint or iris recognition. Hamilton said that companies are focusing on "instant" DNA. In that instance, a person takes a swab of saliva, puts it into a sensor and either has a match or doesn't.

Whether it be fingerprint, iris, voice or veins, there's an evident nationwide interest in biometrics. And just as its becoming more enforced in government applications, the private infrastructure also is looking into the technology as a form of identity verification. There might be some great potential in investing in this type of technology.

"Biometrics has a valuable convenience to it that I think some people sometimes overlook," Hamilton said. "You can never leave home without it."


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