Verify the Signature

Banks, governments demanding reliable authentication, authorization for everyday activities

Banks, financial institutions, municipal, state and federal governments are demanding more reliable, less expensive authentication and authorization systems for everyday activities, from performing financial transactions to boarding an aircraft, entering a secure physical location or crossing international borders.

The global war on terror also has fueled the need; identification and authentication accuracy are critical to identifying threats to national security, public safety and businesses.

Signature verification is a broadly accepted authentication method. The act of signing one's name is commonplace in our legal and commercial lives. Two types of signature verification exist: dynamic (also known as biometric) and static.

Dynamic/Biometric Signature Verification
Dynamic signature verification requires comparing a newly captured biometric signature—such as one written on a signature capture pad—against a biometric sample signature stored as signature trajectory characteristics. Biometric handwriting characteristics are unique to a person and virtually impossible to duplicate. Therefore, handwriting still remains one of the most powerful human identifiers. Dynamic signature verification is the least controversial of current biometric methods, operates with compact data and is one of the most accurate, intuitive, fast and cost effective.

The technology already is incorporated in solutions to improve airport security, strengthen national borders, authenticate travel documents and visas, and prevent ID theft.

In those applications where a subject signs on paper, leaving only a static image, biometric signature verification can be efficiently substituted with static signature verification.

Static Signature Verification
The most advanced static signature verification systems are as accurate as biometric ones and detect forgeries with an accuracy that not just equals but far surpasses visual verification. This technology is widely used by banks to detect check forgery. Since signature characteristics are unique to each person, the software easily can be deployed worldwide.

For example, an image-based check clearing system installed at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in Harare and Bulawayo includes automatic signature verification, powered by a signature recognition engine. The integration of signature authentication software significantly increases the ability of international banks and financial institutions to prevent losses stemming from signature forgeries on checks and other documents. The software compares the image of a signature presented for payment with images in an account's history file to ensure authenticity.

One example of how the technology is being used by county governments across the United States is with mail-in voting.

Signature verification technology verifies a voter's signature on absentee ballots against signatures provided on voter registration forms, marking exceptions and fraud suspects for follow-up review.

Now, more than ever, there is a wide range of interest in signature verification across federal, state and local governments, banking and retail, law enforcement, health and social services. Given its applications and potential for sophistication without being overly intrusive, signature verification represents an ideal bridge between the long-recognized practice of signing a document and the reliable authentication and authorization that is increasingly needed for many commonplace activities and transactions.

This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Security Today.

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