Go ahead, forget that password
- By Michelle Speir
- Nov 21, 1999
No longer the stuff of science fiction, biometrics - the use of a person's physical characteristics and habits to identify that person - was hot enough at this year's fall Comdex show in Las Vegas to warrant its own pavilion.
Not limited to recognizing body parts such as fingerprints, irises and faces, biometrics technologies also can measure behavioral characteristics such as voices, signatures and even typing rhythms.
Keeping an Eye on Security
Unlike retinal scanners portrayed in movies, which beam a laser into the eye, IriScan Inc.'s iris-scanning technology is non-intrusive. It's safe enough to use on a baby, and it even works when the user is wearing sunglasses.
The system uses a miniature video camera built into the hardware to take a black-and-white image of the iris, the colored portion of the eye. A color image is not needed because it is the iris' unique pattern that the system measures. "The pattern of the iris doesn't change throughout a person's life, but the color does," said William Voltmer, senior vice president of sales and marketing at IriScan.
The video image of the iris is converted into a 2,048-bit code and digitized. The image is encrypted and compared to a database of iris codes. The codes do not require proprietary software and can be stored in a database program such as Microsoft Corp.'s Access.
Voltmer said the IriScan technology differs from its competitors in that IriScan can compare an iris code to a database of codes instead of simply verifying that the user's information matches the information for that user on file. In other words, IriScan offers one-to-many verification while competitors offer one-to-one verification. This enables anonymous identification.
Administrators also can set the IriScan software to allow access to an individual for certain locations during certain times. This feature applies to information access as well as physical access.
IriScan does not recognize 2-D, non-living objects, so it can't be foiled with a photo of an eye.
IriScan's technology is available in two forms. One is a handheld unit called PC Iris and the other is a stationary optic reader called IrisAccess, which can be mounted on walls for physical access to doors and vaults.
A Stroke of Genius
The graphic characteristics of a signature are easy to forge, but the way you sign is virtually impossible to imitate.
LCI Technology Group N.V. has taken advantage of this fact in designing the SmartPen. The SmartPen Biometric Authentication System is a ball-point pen that uses sensors to measure the biometric characteristics of a person's signature on paper - no special tablet is required. SmartPen's internal sensors to measure three aspects of a signature: angle, force and acceleration. The information is encrypted inside the pen and transmitted into a computer system.
Sam Asseer, chairman and chief executive officer of LCI, explained the importance of the SmartPen technology: "Financial and other transactions will increasingly be carried over open electronic networks such as the Internet, where the identity of the parties participating...may not be easily verifiable and where there is a need to ensure that information has not been altered."
Tapping In to Your ID
A new category of biometrics called keystroke dynamics measures the way you pound out your log-in name and password.
Net Nanny Software International Inc. has developed an authentication system called BioPassword LogOn for Windows NT that measures the rhythm a person's typing. The BioPassword software is designed to work with the Microsoft Corp. Windows NT log-on screen.
A user creates a key-stroke profile by typing his user name and password 15 times. The profile is encrypted and subsequent log-in attempts are compared with it.
Net Nanny touts the system as a low-cost solution - no external hardware is required - that is completely transparent to the user and easy to install. It is easy to deploy across a network, and security tolerance levels can be set by the administrator.
A Comdex Biometrics Sampler
BioPassword LogOn for Windows NTNet Nanny Software International Inc.Uses "keystroke dynamics" - the unique rhythm with which individuals type - to identify a user.
FaceItVisionics Corp.Maps the image of a face to a mathematical formula that can be matched and compared to others.
Fingerprint Recognition SystemSecuGen Corp.Manufacturers have integrated this technology into devices that include a mouse, an automated teller machine, a door lock, a time and attendance management system, and a keyboard.
IrisAccess and PC IrisIriScan Inc.Uses a video camera to capture the iris' unique patterns.
Positive Identification SystemNEC Technologies Inc.Uses a fingerprint scanner and client software to authenticate users.
SaftyLatchSaflink Corp.Uses voice recognition to encrypt folders and files.
SmartPenLCI Technology Group N.V.Uses sensors inside a ball point pen to measure the angle, force and acceleration of a person's signature.
VeriproxBiometric Identification Inc.Combines fingerprint identification with a card reader. The fingerprint of the person seeking entry must match the identity of the card holder.