Fingerprinting meets city's price and need for simplicity

Finding a better way for employees to get access to the Glendale, Calif., network became critical last year after external auditors surveyed the city's computer security schemes and found them lacking.

Particularly, they said, the process of changing passwords just once a year was insufficient. They suggested that users change their passwords every 60 to 90 days. And by the way, they said, the new passwords should be eight-character alpha numeric codes.

Scott Harmon, Glendale's information services administrator, didn't think that would sit well with city employees, most of whom are relatively unsophisticated computer users who would probably not be comfortable with such a complicated password routine. And password administration — coping with forgotten passwords and the installation of new ones — was already a major expense, accounting for nearly half of the IT help desk's $100,000-a-year operating costs.

When he learned that a company called Digital-Persona Inc. was offering a fingerprint-scanning solution for $150 per workstation, including reader and software, a skeptical Harmon asked for a demonstration. The demo convinced him that the technology worked, and because it was a case of simply installing software and then connecting a scanner about the size of a ring box to a USB port, Harmon's IT staff could do the installation themselves.

"Security people in particular have been aware of biometrics and have been looking for ways to use the technology," said George Myers, DigitalPersona's senior director of marketing. "But the price point was the key factor. They wanted something that was affordable and immediately usable. With salesof devices increasing, and the availability of new and more powerful [digital signal processing chips] that allow us to use more sophisticated algorithms,we can now begin to deliver that to them."

Harmon is pleased with the technology. It's simple to install, easy to use and provides sophisticated security, he said. His only issue now is finding the money to add scanners to all city employees' desktops, something that will probably take about two years.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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