Biometrics takes on physical access
Agencies have multiple ID options for bolstering building security
- By John Moore
- Mar 06, 2005
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.
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