Microsoft embraces biometrics

The biometrics industry received a shot in the arm in early May when Microsoft

Corp. announced plans to integrate biometric authentication technology in

future versions of its Windows operating system. To help make this happen,

Microsoft acquired I/O Software Inc.'s Biometric API (BAPI) technology and

SecureSuite core authentication technology. The software will enable users

to log on and conduct secure e-commerce transactions using a combination

of fingerprint, iris pattern or voice recognition instead of a password.

Microsoft's announcement will almost certainly have significant ramifications

for the biometrics industry through promoting widespread adoption of biometrics

and making biometric devices more easily available to users. "Over the next

few years, we expect to see fingerprint scanners or another form of biometric

authentication on the majority of PCs," says William Saito, president and

CEO of I/O Software.

Interestingly, Microsoft chose not to use the recently released, industry-consensus

biometric application program interface (BioAPI) standard as the basis for

its integration of biometrics into Windows.

The BioAPI specification is an "open systems" specification that is

intended for use across a spectrum of computing environments — including

Windows, UNIX and Linux — to ensure cross-platform support. The BioAPI is

the result of several years of collaboration between the biometrics industry,

government and major IT vendors, and the 51 members comprising the BioAPI

Consortium include companies such as Intel Corp., Compaq Computer Corp.,

Unisys Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

A Microsoft spokesperson said the company does not want to adapt the

BioAPI at this time because it is focused only on application development,

whereas Microsoft is working on developing an entire platform that would

involve both software and hardware.

Such a platform would necessarily involve more elements than the BioAPI

covers, the Microsoft spokesperson said.

However, there is plenty of support for the BioAPI in the federal government.

In fact, the Army Director for Biometrics is requiring that all biometrics

products purchased by the Army be BioAPI compliant. GSA's Smart Card program

also requires BioAPI compliance for all biometrics products.

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