CyberSign pens signature tech

CyberSign Inc., San Jose, Calif., has developed a biometric signature product that the U.S. Postal Service is testing to speed up bulk mail delivery by making it possible for the agency to authenticate and validate orders from mailers who sign their names on a digital pad and pass the captured data over a network.

Officials at CyberSign said the "behavioral" biometrics of a signature are as individual as a fingerprint. But they said signatures have an advantage over other methods of biometric identification because they are already accepted as the way documents are made legally binding.

CyberSign's technology measures the pressure applied to a signature and the duration of the signing process and converts that data into algorithms, said Dennis Quiggle, vice president of marketing for CyberSign. The data is combined with specific measurements of the signature to create a template which, if plotted, would show three wavy lines that represent the characteristics of a person's signature over one straight line that represents time.

"The system takes the dynamics of your signature and creates data out of it that [represent] a very natural pattern that's repeated every time you sign your name," Quiggle said. "In order to defeat this system, the data has to come [into the system] in a stream that exactly matches the timing and the curves."

The template, which is created when a user signs his or her name three times, is stored on a file server where it can be easily accessed, Quiggle said. The digital pad that captures the data is standard equipment that connects to a desktop computer through a parallel port, serial port or Universal Serial Bus, he said.

Netyear Group Inc., Redwood Shores, Calif., is one of the companies working on the prototype. Shanti Bergel, Net-year's manager of business development, said the prototype is being designed in the Java programming language to replace a paper-based system, and it should be completed at the end of 1999. She said the system adds security to the process by wrapping signature data in encryption code before it is sent over the network.

Bergel said biometric signatures would do away with passwords and personal identification numbers, which are often forgotten or shared with other users. She said they would also eliminate the need for key cards, which can be lost or stolen.

Officials at biometric companies and analysts said they hope that continued and more varied government application of the technology will lead to greater acceptance in the commercial market.

They said signature authentication technology is being used or considered by federal agencies in projects outside the traditional security and intelligence areas that demand the ironclad proof of identity that biometric identification systems deliver.

Erik Bowman, an industry analyst at CardTech/Secure-Tech Inc., Bethesda, Md., said biometric technologies— including systems that identify a person based on fingerprints, eyes, voice and the shape of the hand or face— have had tremendous support from governments.

This year, spending by federal, state and local agencies will account for $62 million of the $100 million spent on biometric identification technology, Bowman said.

Agencies have been looking more closely at biometric signature applications for document flow management, partly because the cost of these systems has been dropping, he said.

The Internal Revenue Service is testing a biometric signature technology created by PenOp Inc. that would facilitate the agency's goal to receive 80 percent of the returns filed by individuals taxpayers in electronic form by 2007, Bowman said.

Quiggle said the Food and Drug Administration also has encouraged scientists to include biometric signatures in the workflow data they submit to substantiate their research on drugs. This would make it easier to expose anyone who falsifies research, he said.

Bowman said there is validity to the argument that CyberSign's technology has an advantage over other types of biometric technology because of the wide acceptance of signatures. He said fingerprint biometric technology is winning out in the marketplace, but he predicted that a variety of biometrics ultimately will find applications.

"It's just a matter of which companies do the best job promoting themselves," he said.

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