NEC adds fingerprint solution to GSA sked

NEC Technologies Inc. recently added its fingerprint-based network security solution to its General Services Administration schedule, positioning the product as an alternative to password-based solutions.

The product, known as TouchPass, verifies the identity of someone logging onto a network by checking one of the person's fingerprints, rather than requiring the person to enter a password, as is commonly done on most networks.

"Automated fingerprint recognition technology is a strategic technology for NEC," said Jim Menendez, NEC's manager of marketing. So far, Air Force and Navy customers are working with initial implementations, using 10 to 50 units, with plans to expand the product's use, he said. The company also expects "to start a few pilots with some Army facilities" in the near future.

NEC stresses the product's ease of use and scalability to at least 200,000 users. It can grow to "whatever the operating system can support," Menendez said.

The NEC system requires server and client software plus small scanning devices that plug into computers' PC Card or parallel ports. The system is hardware-independent, so it can be used with non-NEC hardware running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT, according to the company.

Currently, NEC uses a fingerprint scanner provided by the American Biometric Co. Server, and client software packages require about 1M of disk space each.

Biometric technology, such as fingerprint scans, provides an "additional layer of security" beyond passwords because it relies on unique and permanent characteristics of individuals, said Susan Cournoyer, an industry analyst with Dataquest. "We are seeing a significant demand for identification verification solutions" at the state and federal levels, she said.

Dataquest foresees a "very large uptake for biometrics," especially as the technology becomes incorporated into smart card products, which are convenient and secure, Cournoyer said.

GSA pricing for TouchPass is $270 for client software and $880 for server software in quantities of one. Although the user's fingerprint image is captured, only select features of the fingerprint are saved, the company said. These features are compared in the identity verification process.

As a next step, the company plans to integrate biometric fingerprint data onto smart cards - a feature expected to be available with Release 2.0 of TouchPass this summer, Menendez said.

Other vendors are not far behind in bringing their products to the federal market. Key Tronic Corp., for example, has applied for inclusion of its Secure line keyboard and stand-alone fingerprint scanners on the GSA schedule through resellers Government Technology Services Inc. and Inacom Corp. and through distributors Tech Data and Ingram Data.

The GSA schedule products will be bundled with access control software from Identicator Inc., said John Barnes, Key Tronic's manager of marketing communications.

-- Adams is a free-lance writer based in Alexandria, Va. She can be reached at cbadams@erols.com.

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