Miros upgrades face recognition security solution

Wellesley Mass.-based software maker Miros Inc. this month will roll out the newest version of a face recognition-based application for computer security. When a person sits down at a computer CyberWatch 3.0 - like its predecessors - will sift through a video image to locate the face of the person who wants to use the computer. Then CyberWatch will verify that face against a previously stored image of the computer's authorized user.

But unlike its predecessors the latest version of the software should have a higher accuracy rate and should be able to tell when an unauthorized user is trying to fool it into believing a 2-D photograph of a face is the real thing.

"The system can actually detect whether it's looking at a 2-D or a 3-D image " said Joseph Burke Miros' vice president of marketing. "That has been a weakness in face recognition: trying to find out if it's looking at the real face or not."

The product Version 3.0 of Miros' CyberWatch software is expected to be channeled to federal users via original equipment manufacturers and resellers Burke said. Miros' new CyberWatch product will be downloadable from the company's Web site (www.miros.com) for about $60. The product costs $40 more if it is shipped and CyberWatch customers can buy a desktop camera for another $109.

Even though face recognition is a technology still in its ripening stage federal users are beginning to take notice.

For example the Immigration and Naturalization Service earlier this year chose a product by New Jersey-based Visionics Corp. for a pilot project in which face recognition software is used to verify the identify of people who frequently cross the border between Mexico and the United States.

And the Customs Service two years ago tried a Miros product in a similar pilot project for verifying travelers' identities. That project although successful never was able to attract the funding for an agencywide rollout Burke said.

But the souped-up desktop product for computer or network security that Miros will release this month is not just for the INS or Customs according to Miros. Burke said the product can be used anywhere security is critical where sensitive information is stored and where computer passwords are not sufficient.

"Face recognition is attractive because it's very user-friendly. People are very used to using their face for identification " said Jackie Fenn vice president and research director of advanced technologies at information technology consulting firm Gartner Group Inc.

But face recognition is a technology that still must compete with other emerging biometric products such as keyboards that will not work unless they recognize your fingerprints according to Fenn.

And face recognition like other biometric technologies is not as widespread as it could be. "I think the reluctance is...because biometrics itself is seen as somewhat new especially in the desktop applications such as CyberWatch is addressing " she said.

However by making its product's price attractive to hobbyists and the average consumer Miros may help build awareness of biometrics Fenn said.

Opinions on face recognition for computer security in the federal market will be mixed according to some federal insiders.

"Some agencies are very excited about that [technology] and some are perfectly happy with password control " said Charles L. Wilson manager of the visual image processing group at the National Institute of Standards ant Technology.

According to Wilson an agency's choice to use face recognition or some other biometric for computer access will depend on two factors: how sensitive the agency's information is and how easy it wants computer access to be.

For Miros and the rest of the biometric marketplace - from fingerprint keyboard makers to voice recognition concerns - having a new technology for computer security embraced by the federal government will hinge on more than product accuracy. "I think it depends on who gets out there with an easy-to-use not-very-expensive technology quick " Wilson said.

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