Software bundles biometric solutions

SAFLink Corp. next month will begin shipping a suite of software that brings together three kinds of biometric security technology to help organizations control access to their networks.

The SAF2000 Multi-Biometric Enterprise Security Suite incorporates fingerprint recognition, voice verification and facial image recognition technologies in a single system so network administrators can adapt the product to meet different requirements.

Biometric technology, which identifies a person based on a given physical characteristic, is billed as a more secure alternative to password-based access control because biometric "signatures"—the digitized imprints of the fingerprint, voice or face—cannot be forgotten or shared with someone else and are more difficult to replicate.

The SAF2000 suite is designed to protect all points of user access to enterprise resources, including local-area networks, wide-area networks, dial-up networks, virtual private networks, intranets and extranets, the company said.

SAF2000 is a convenient "compilation of already existing products...very attractively priced," said Walter Hamilton, SAFLink's director of business development in Tampa, Fla.

Although the government generally is conservative in its approach to new technologies, the company has placed its products in a number of pilot implementations with federal agencies, Hamilton said. Customers include the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the National Security Agency and the Social Security Administration. "We have a lot of hope that the federal market will be a strong supporter of biometrics," he said.

Biometrics for network authentication is "just seeing the beginning of a surge in activity," said Jackie Fenn, vice president and research director for advanced technology at Gartner Group, Stamford, Conn. Barriers have been the cost of the technology and the limited utility of the products, she said. Basically, users had "stand-alone units that you plug in to replace the password screen."

But prices are coming down. Fingerprint sensors that cost $1,500 three years ago now sell for $100 to $200, Hamilton said. SAFLink is offering its new product suite at a suggested list price of $199.95, including a license for 10 users for the server database. The low entry point is designed to encourage organizations to initiate small-scale test installations, Hamilton said.

The new product's ability to provide a single interface for multiple types of biometric solutions has utility, Fenn said. A large enterprise working with a large user population, for example, might find that fingerprint-based authentication does not work well with certain individuals. The multibiometric suite would allow the organization to substitute voice or facial recognition technology without having to buy new software. "If you layer biometrics, you can overcome the problem," Fenn said.

A multibiometric architecture also could be used to increase a network's level of security by looking at multiple sets of data, said Fernando Podio, an electrical engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and co-chairman of the Biometrics Consortium, which includes more than 500 members from government, industry and academia.

The software will support Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT and Windows 95 and 98, Novell Inc.'s operating systems, Computer Associates International Inc.'s Unicenter TNG systems management software and Microsoft's Internet Information Server for access to private World Wide Web pages, Hamilton said.

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

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