Biometrics 101: A Primer for Physical Access Control
By Debra Spitler
The world of physical access control was altered by the events of September 11, 2001, as veterans of this industry will attest. Prior to that time, physical access control systems relied upon technologies such as barium ferrite, magnetic stripe, Wiegand, and proximity to provide an appropriate level of security.
Biometric technology was rarely considered for use in a physical access control system. The need for high security translated into the requirement to provide a proximity reader and card as opposed to a magnetic stripe reader and card. Further, the concept of identity verification did not enter the picture.
Times have changed. U.S. government agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as private industry, are seriously considering the benefits of a second level of physical security that incorporates biometric technology. As a result, biometric technology providers are seeking ways to transfer their knowledge to the physical access control marketplace. Likewise, access control system manufacturers and large system integrators are beginning to take an active interest in learning about and supporting biometric technologies at the end-user level.
As new opportunities for growth in the access control arena emerge, it is important to remember that biometrics is a technology, not an industry, says John Hunepohl, president of Exact Identification Corporation. "Before applying any technology, first identify the problem. Second, define a solution. Third, see how your technology can become part or all of the solution."
What Are Biometrics?
Biometric systems use automated techniques that verify or identify people by their physical characteristics. Various technologies are currently available for biometric authentication.
- In terms of revenues, the extremely dynamic fingerprint market leads the other biometric technologies. Factors driving this market include the miniaturization of sensors, falling prices, and access control and network security applications. Manufacturers of electronic devices such as cell phones, PDAs and laptop computers are planning to add fingerprint biometric sensors to secure information and enable the devices for electronic commerce, according to Julia Webb, vice president of global marketing for Bioscrypt.
- A veteran in the biometric market, hand geometry was identified by Frost & Sullivan's World Biometric Report 2002 as the dominant biometric technology for access control and time-and-attendance applications. Some key factors driving this market include small template size and the need for highly secured areas. Hand geometry is well suited for such locations as airports and border crossings.
- A fast growing technology, iris recognition will be the second largest technology in terms of revenues by 2006. Factors driving this market include accuracy, the non-intrusive nature of the technology and the introduction of new, price-competitive products to the market. Iris recognition should gain popularity in financial and network security applications.
- Currently in its infancy, voice verification will increase in use due to its advantage of incorporating existing infrastructure. It is the only biometric technology that can be used over telecommunications networks. This market will expand due to the technology's intuitive, user-friendly, unobtrusive and cost-effective nature. Additional drivers include the existence of an infrastructure framework, high utility for wireless telephone users, and opportunities driven by voice-enabled commerce.
- A passive technology that requires no effort by the user, face recognition will grow rapidly due to increased surveillance and monitoring. It is also predicted to make a mark in the travel industry. The face recognition market will be driven by the fact that the technology is non-intrusive and passive, cost-effective, and is good for use in government, law enforcement and casino applications. The technology is recognized by the International Civil Aviation Organization, which develops, adopts and amends international standards to increase the safety and security of international civil aviation.
- Signature verification is an emerging commercial market fueled by its application of paperless document management. Electronic signature legislations, combined with the increased demand for paperless document processing and increasing use of wireless devices, will drive this market. The cost-effectiveness of the technology will also play a role.
- Used mainly in high-security government and military locations, retina recognition is currently seen as a highly intrusive technology. Factors that will impact this market include the need for high-security access control, small template size, and the price-competitive nature of the technology.