Ask the Expert
This month's expert discusses the practical application of biometrics
- By Larry O'Brien
- Aug 06, 2009
A recent survey showed that spending
on biometrics could increase
by about 140 percent within the
next five years. If the mass adoption of
high-tech technology found in spy movies
is imminent, what tools are most useful,
and where might we be seeing practical
We spoke to Larry
O'Brien, CEO of Security Forces and SFI
Electronics, to find out more.
ISSUE:Can you give us an overview
of the most common biometric
SOLUTION:Leading biometrics technologies
include fingerprint identification,
iris scanning and voice recognition.
Fingerprint readers lead the way in adoption
rates and may even become the primary
source of identification in the future
over personal identification numbers. No
two fingerprints are exactly alike, and
readers scan the unique valleys and ridges
in an individual's finger to distinguish one
person from another, usually with a high
This is a relatively inexpensive method
of biometric identification and is already
in use in many modern laptop computers.
Fingerprint readers could soon find their
way onto frequently used equipment such
as ATM kiosks and vending machines or
in schools for access control, cashless
catering and library access solutions.
However, there are ways around the
technology. Gel molds of another person's
fingerprint may fool the system. Fingerprint
readers also may struggle to identify
fingers that have changed since an initial
scanning, for example, due to small injuries
that can alter a person's prints.
ISSUE:What are some of the more
SOLUTION:Iris scanning is less susceptible
to physical change, yet it is
just as accurate as a fingerprint reader—
mainly because the iris is unique
to each individual. Identity verification
can be checked from several feet
away and involves no direct eye contact.
Practical applications of the technology
can be found in several airports in
North America and Europe, and within
border agencies in the United Kingdom
and United Arab Emirates.
However, the technology can be expensive
and is not foolproof. In fact, in one
example, a group of German researchers
were able to fool an iris-scanning system
by placing a high-quality printout of an
iris in front of the scanning device.
Perhaps the most easy-to-use biometrics
system is voice recognition technology.
It attempts to verify an identity by
analyzing the unique acoustic patterns in
an individual's voice. The system is noninvasive
and is most useful for long-distance
identification, over a phone line or
through an Internet device. Unfortunately,
small changes in a person's voice, such as
a cold or a sore throat, may throw off the
system and comprimise identification.
ISSUE:What are some of the ways in
which biometric technologies are used
in the real world?
SOLUTION:Using biometrics in combination with existing security systems
can enhance procedures at a facility.
For instance, access control systems
may now require PIN numbers, an iris
scan or a fingerprint reader to create a
more secure system. While logging in to
a remote voicemail system, a user could
provide a pass code, and the system also
would verify the user through voice recognition
The Department of Defense Common
Access Card is an example of biometrics
integrated with existing security procedures.
This smart card contains biometric
data and digitized photographs on a microchip,
placed on an identification card.
Laser-etched photographs and holograms
add security and reduce the risk of falsifi
cation. More than 17 million of these
cards have been issued.
Using biometrics in a security system
can greatly enhance existing procedures,
but choosing the right tool will require an
experienced integrator. Be sure to consult
an integrator who has the knowledge to
recommend the right blend of technologies
to complement an existing system or
when installing a new system.
READER QUESTION: I manage a
small boutique law firm that stores
highly sensitive client data. Our office
has only one entry door and three
windows. We need a system that will
provide reliable access control, but
for our small company biometrics and
cameras seem a little over the top. What
other technologies could we consider?
SOLUTION:There are several major
lock manufacturers that provide systems
that feature traditional-looking locks with
basic access control functions. These
products have digital keys that can be
quickly added or deleted as employees are
hired or terminated. Additionally, these
locks can provide an audit trail to show
who has entered your office and when.
They can be installed in only a few minutes,
without any wiring or modifications
to the door or frame.
Also, be sure to have a fire-safe file
cabinet and think about installing an
intrusion system to sound an alarm if
anyone were to attempt
to break in through