The Eyes Have It

Tips for understanding, choosing the best biometric solution

If the security market in 2009 is anything like the one in 2008, it will be brimming with technology to help protect people, property and assets. Thanks in part to the digital revolution, end users can choose from a variety of technical solutions ranging from basic stand-alone video surveillance, alarm intrusion or card access systems to comprehensive and integrated enterprise-wide IP-based systems.

But because the security arena is such a diverse field with almost infinite variables and capabilities, the decisions as to which solutions are the best have never been more complex, and this is particularly true in the newer field of biometrics.

The Best of the Best
Biometrics is the method for uniquely recognizing and authenticating a person’s identity, based on intrinsic physical traits. While there are several biometric recognition and authentication technologies available, including fingerprint, voice, hand and facial geometry, it is generally acknowledged—and field-proven—that iris recognition is the most accurate, stable and scalable system on the market.

As an identity management solution, iris recognition systems use a video camera to take a picture of the unique pattern of a person’s iris. Unlike other physical characteristics, such as fingerprints, the pattern of the iris does not change after the first year of a person’s life. There also are a number of additional features and benefits that set iris recognition systems apart from other biometric technologies.

Accuracy and Reliability
Iris recognition systems report a false acceptance rate or false match of less than one in 1.2 million for single-eye recognition and one in 44 trillion when both eyes are recognized. In other words, the probability that an unauthorized person will be accepted as someone else and be allowed access is less than one in 1.2 million times. Accuracy also is ensured when new enrollments are compared to existing database enrollments to make certain there is no duplication of templates. One-to-one matching and dualcamera iris recognition technology is so accurate that no additional identification is necessary.

It also should be noted that using two cameras to capture both iris images simultaneously increases the speed, accuracy and ease-of-use of the system compared to a one-camera system. In addition to improving accuracy by referencing both eyes, the dual-camera process allows advanced functionality, such as system-prompted user guidance.

Once the captured image is encrypted using the latest 3DES technology and stored to a database, authentication is a one-to-many comparison technique instead of only a one-to-one search. The difference is that a one-to-many search seeks to find and match to an identity in the database rather than simply verifying that the identity is included in the database. Additionally, files needed to store iris data are much smaller than those for fingerprints—512 bytes compared to 1.5 MB—making the data easier to store and access.

Acceptance, Ease of Use
No matter how great a biometric solution may seem on paper, if it is perceived as invasive or inefficient, its implementation success can be jeopardized. A significant advantage of an iris recognition system helps to overcome this issue. The system is contactless and offers easy functionality for both users and administrators when compared to other biometric solutions.

To enroll a user, the camera captures a detailed image of the iris and the system’s biometric software makes a template or map of the person’s iris pattern for system storage. To verify identity later, an individual simply looks into the iris reader and the system compares the patterns in the person’s iris against the templates stored in the database. If there’s a match, the person’s identity is verified. All of this takes approximately 800 milliseconds— less than 1 second. And because no contact with the camera is required, either for enrollment or authentication, wear and tear on the cameras and contamination concerns are greatly reduced.

Because of the non-contact interface, iris recognition systems are often selected for applications where the user is gloved or wearing special protective clothing for biological, chemical or nuclear threats. When users are dressed in a MOP suit with a face shield, iris recognition can still be employed easily and successfully. Even when users are wearing glasses or after vision-correction surgery, iris recognition systems still perform accurately.

Integration Capability
Integration of related security systems can bring cost efficiencies to a physical security implementation. An iris recognition system should easily integrate with card access control systems. For example, an iris recognition system with built-in commercial off-the-shelf support for HID PROX and i-Class smart-card technology can save both time and money. Other features of state-of-the-art iris recognition systems include the capability to store templates on smart cards or to index a user record with credentials. In addition, compatibility in merging the databases through a basic application programming interface is a key contributor to successful integration, as is compatibility with standard Wiegand interface protocol access control systems.

Some iris readers feature an embedded processor with real-time operation for added reliability versus PC-driven biometric devices and can be used in a system configuration or as a stand-alone unit. Most also should be compliant with worldwide standards, including CENELEC, (EN 60825-1) and ANSI RP-27.1-96.

This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of Security Today.

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