Biometric Technology – Ready for Mainstream?

Facial, iris and hand recognition; fingerprint scanning and other physical and behavioral characteristics--we’ve all been exposed to the principles of biometric technology at some point, whether watching it in a James Bond film or deploying it at your local grocery store. Pay by Touch was one such privately held company that allowed consumers to pay for goods and services by a fingerprint swipe on a biometric sensor. Yet supermarkets across the country silently pulled the technology off the aisles back in March after the company behind the systems, Solidus Networks Inc., San Francisco, filed for bankruptcy.

Biometrics has long been around, especially so in the government sector since security became a vital priority across our nation after the 9/11 attacks. Although we are seeing more of a need for it in the commercial sector now, leading experts and providers of biometric technology still examine the underlying question: at what cost are we willing to accept biometric technology into our lives?

“The topic of biometrics goes back to the whole privacy issue some consumers have,” said Lorraine Yarde, chief operating officer (COO), bioMETRX Inc., Jericho, N.Y. “People are not yet comfortable with biometrics. Until we get over the hurdle of the whole privacy issue, I don’t think biometrics is going to be deployed as widely as it can be. Every consumer becomes a potential business customer. It starts with the consumer on a residential level - getting the biometric products into their hands, havingthem use it on a daily basis and becoming familiar with the convenience and security aspects.”

According to ABI Research, Oyster Bay, N.Y., biometric technology in government, law enforcement and private sectors worldwide will see spending increase up to $7.3 billion by 2013, up from around $3 billion in 2008.

“Biometrics are no longer a distant concept but have now entered the public consciousness,” said Wallace Seaborn, president and chief executive officer, Integrated Biometrics Inc., Greenville, S.C. “It continues to be a hot topic and is in the media virtually every day. You know the interest is real and value has been determined when customers are making purchases.” 
The development of biometrics has seen a steady increase in usage across various markets.

“Building awareness, decreasing costs, fraud reduction, proven reliability, multi-modal system integration and even the convenience factor are all key points in the development of biometrics over the years,” said James Conniff, director of Sales and Marketing and Access Control Solutions, Sagem Morpho Inc., Tacoma, Wash., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the European firm Sagem Sécurité, a company in the SAFRAN Group.

Identity theft and cybercrime
For many security experts, identity theft is considered to be the No. 1 crime in America today.
In a survey released by Finjan Inc., San Jose, Calif., provider of secure Web gateway solutions for the enterprise market, in September 91 percent of all respondents perceived cybercrime as a major business risk while 73 percent of responding chief information officers were concerned about data theft.

“Because of this and many other issues resulting from the online world we live in, the privacy argument is now in favor of biometrics,” explained Seaborn. “Biometric solutions are already making significant contributions to protecting identity and personal information. The application of biometrics with the goal of ensuring privacy is growing quickly.”

Rooted in government sector
In the last several years, the market has evolved to support multiple biometrics. Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS 201), Real ID, Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC™) and ePassport are just some of the components of biometric technology that the government supports and provides, making it the key driving force behind biometrics today. 

For the commercial sector, the leading application continues to be physical access.

“Biometric time and attendance solutions result in a strong return on investment (ROI) and are steadily increasing in market share,” said Seaborn. “Logical access is growing as well, being pushed by embedded technologies coming standard in more mobile devices. The next frontier is the business application layer and embedding value-added biometric functionality into business and consumer processes.”

Biometrics is also offered as a convenient solution for accessing personal data from laptops and mobile phones.

“The use of portable, mobile identification devices that incorporate finger, iris and other biometrics has opened up a new application for use in the field,” said Lisa Cradit, vice president of Communications, L-1 Identity Solutions, Stamford, Conn.

In Japan, consumers use biometrics on a daily basis. Technological integration increases use of biometrics in a number of different purposes and applications.

“Mobile devices have come a long way over the last few years,” said Conniff. “First responders see a huge need for biometrics in such applications as gate access and at border crossings.”
Other applications such as accessing your banking information through a mobile phone are also being used in markets such as Asia, according to Yarde.

“In the Asia market, the cell phone system was very different compared to the U.S.,” said Yarde. “In Asia, the cell phone market is driven by the manufacturers. They add new features and they drive the business. In the U.S., it’s the carriers that drive the market more so then the manufacturers.”

With leading manufacturers continuing to develop solutions in the biometric technology sector, industry experts seem confident that the commercial market has long been ready for the solutions that they provide.

“The question is not whether the commercial sector is ready for the increase in security and accuracy promised by biometric solutions,” said Seaborn. “The real question is whether biometrics solutions are performing at the level required to meet the needs of the commercial sector.”