Ask the Expert

This month's expert discusses the practical application of biometrics

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 implementations?

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 technologies?

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 accuracy rate.

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 advanced biometrics?

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 software.

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 the windows.


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