Biometrics takes on physical access

Agencies have multiple ID options for bolstering building security

Government officials seeking to reinforce building and facility security are taking a closer look at biometrics. The technology employs physical characteristics such as a fingerprint or an iris scan to validate a person's identity.

The Defense Department, intelligence agencies and Energy Department laboratories have been using biometrics for years to secure facilities.

What's new, however, is a growing interest in biometrics among a broader government audience. In this era of heightened security, more agencies are concluding that traditional protective measures, such as identification badges and the like, may not be enough to keep facilities safe. Biometric tools increasingly fill the security gap.

An array of biometric systems may be enlisted for physical security. Hand geometry and fingerprint recognition already have found wide deployment, but newer technologies are vying for attention. Depending on the solution, the price of biometrically securing an entry can range from hundreds of dollars to more than $4,000.

But experts advise biometric buyers to look beyond the initial price tag before making a commitment. "You don't just look at the cost of hardware," said Dale Murray, tech team lead for the Entry Control and Biometrics Group at Sandia National Laboratories.

"In general, variables to consider include fast throughput, high reliability, ease of use and the cost for acquiring, installing and maintaining the technology," said John Woodward, director of DOD's Biometrics Management Office.

Increasing interest

Sandia, considered DOE's lead lab for security systems, has a history in the government's biometric adoption. The lab's initial foray into designing biometric systems dates back to the mid-1980s. But despite this early start, the adoption of biometrics for physical security has been gradual. Murray said people have approached the technology tentatively.

This trepidation, however, has begun to fade. For one, security employees are becoming more familiar with the technology. But the greater impetus comes from homeland security concerns. "With all this interest in homeland security, we've seen a strong uptick in interest," Murray said.

Indeed, vendors report that government customers are starting to recognize the limitations of traditional access-

control measures. The problem with ID badges, radio frequency ID or proximity cards is that they provide single-factor authentication, said Ken Scheflen, senior vice president and general manager at Viisage, a biometrics vendor.

Security guards or card readers might recognize that a user's credential is valid, but they couldn't verify that the credential actually belongs to the user. Someone could have stolen a card or badge from its owner.

Organizations that rely on flash pass systems "pretty much have no security," Scheflen said. "What they have to move toward is

Consider integration

Agencies evaluating biometric technology have a number of factors to consider — including how well the solution will integrate into existing security

systems.

"It's not always easy to integrate biometrics," said Dale Murray, tech team lead for the Entry Control and Biometrics Group at the Energy Department's Sandia National Laboratories. "We've had to be a little bit creative." Murray's group designs biometric systems and advises DOE and external customers on biometrics.

In the past, biometric devices weren't necessarily designed with integration in mind. Murray said vendors have had a tendency to consider their products the sole entry-control system. The vendors "considered it a stand-alone at that door," he said.

But biometrics companies have come to recognize that they are selling a component that goes into a much larger security system, Murray said. In addition, large security systems vendors such as Honeywell and General Electric "are recognizing people want to integrate biometrics as a component into their system. We're seeing more cooperation in both directions."

GE, for example, offers an adapter that lets its CASI proximity card reader connect to a Bioscrypt

V-Flex fingerprint reader.

In some cases, integrated products are available as turnkey solutions. Recognition Systems' HandKey II iCLASS product combines the company's hand geometry reader with HID Corp.'s iCLASS smart card reader.

Such integration provides for dual-factor authentication. The addition of authorization — validating a user's privileges in a given area — is another factor to consider, said Phil Libin, president of CoreStreet. The company's Access Management Server manages user privileges. The product is built into CoreStreet's physical access solutions but also ships as a software module that can be integrated with other access-control products.

— John Moore

Biometric benefits

Scott Air Force Base, Ill., has installed hand geometry readers at two turnstiles to improve base access via its Shiloh-Scott MetroLink rail station entrance.

Base officials "sought a system that could provide fast throughput, high reliability and ease of use — all at a reasonable cost," said John Woodward, director of the Defense Department's Biometrics Management Office. More than 13,000 personnel regularly enter the base. Accordingly, the facility places "a high premium on physical access control," Woodward said.

Officials deployed Recognition Systems' HandKey II systems. Each system employs two-factor

authentication: the hand geometry biometric plus

a personal identification number that individuals must enter on a keypad.

Last year, West Virginia University researchers studied the biometric installation at Scott. They found that the system could save the Air Force as much as $412,000 over five years, according to a draft report from the Biometrics Management Office. The ability to redeploy security guards contributes to that savings.

"We find biometrics being used in ways that help reduce costs," said Bill Spence, director of marketing at Recognition Systems.

Beyond cost reduction, the office's report noted unquantifiable benefits such as "improvements in speed of entry, ease of access and use, and simplicity of access for the users."

— John Moore

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